In the world of this book, ‘A Darker Shade Of Magic, by V.E. Schwab, there are four Londons. Grey London, which is our ordinary London. Red London which is full of vibrant magic and prosperity. White London where magic is used in a violent way and Black London which has been sealed off. As an Antari, Kell has the ability to move between these four Londons to deliver messages. He also smuggles things through the worlds. But one object he takes has connections to Black London and could be very dangerous.
Lila is a thief, with big ambitions to become a pirate one day. The streets of Grey London have been harsh to her and she needs a way out of them. A chance encounter with Kell changes her world forever.
V.E. Schwab’s world-building is really immersive. I found myself totally lost in the world of the Londons she has created. They are all complete with their own culture that really complements the fabric of the story well. Each London has remnants of our London. For example, all have a river, representative of a variation of the River Thames, all have some sort of castle and all have a tavern at a certain place. The story is set in around the time of the industrial revolution, which I thoroughly enjoyed as I quite like a good historical setting.
Additionally, the Londons have their own languages, which further help to add to the world, as some of the text is actually written in that language, before being translated into English for the reader to understand what is said.
The plot is quite well done, as it provides an exploration of the world, through a journey Kell goes on, which delivers world-building information and introduces characters in a cohesive and engaging manner, before diving in to the main conflict. I would have liked to have known a bit more about each of the Londons, however, as this is the first in a trilogy, I should imagine that will come in later books. The mystery of what the object was and what it could be used for was delivered quite well. It made for a compelling and engaging plot.
Lila is a very interesting character. She is quite a good example of the complexity that would be created in a girl who has had a rough life growing up on the London streets. V.E. Schwab does a good job of not shying away from the realities of that life, while simultaneously creating a fierce character with whom the reader can identify well.
Kell similarly is quite an interesting character. He is engaging to follow and his powers are quite unique in an interesting way. A good example of a quirk of his power is that he has a coat which, if he turns will turn into different coats, which I thought was quite a good concept, particularly as what coat he is wearing is often representative of what sort of thing he is doing.
The relationship between Lila and Kell is extremely well done. While most books that centre around a male and a female character would have them fall in love, Schwab does not do this. Instead, she gives them a much more complicated relationship, which is more realistic to the situation. Additionally, it makes their relationship more intriguing to watch, as they are not in love and at times they don’t even like each other. Therefore, the way they do and don’t work together in different situations is quite fascinating, because it is quite unusual for that sort of relationship to exist in this sort of story.
Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and highly recommend it to anyone who would enjoy a well-constructed fantasy with complex characters who have complex relationships.
(pub: TOR/Forge, 2014. 398 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-7645-9
pub: Titan Books. Ebook. Price: £ 4.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-7832-954-0-1)