YA novels haven’t been my cup of tea lately. Occasionally one comes along that I love (like Skyborn and Nimona), but most of the new stuff that’s been coming out hasn’t been doing it for me, at least at the moment. Maybe it’s the need to have stirring young love or the overly dramatic characters who are too focused on their own pain to see the problems going on around them, but I’ve been growing less hopeful for the genre of late. And now I find myself willing to give it another go.
Why, you may ask?
Well, when you take a moment to begin reading V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic you’ll know for yourself.
London is a beautiful city. Magic flows freely for the use of all who carry the aptitude for it, the ruling monarch is a benevolent force for the people, and the nation is at peace. But it isn’t the only London. There are four versions of the city that overlap each other: Red London, a city brimming with magic; Grey London, where magic has all but dried up from the world; White London, where the world is being bled of it’s magic and the people fight for a drop of it’s power; and Black London, a city that has been lost to legend. Only a scarce few are able to open the doors that lead between the different worlds, and Kell is Red London’s traveler. Officially, he travels between worlds on diplomatic duties, but unofficially he is a smuggler who transports items between worlds, but when he stumbles upon an object from Black London he finds himself being hunted by those that desire its power for themselves.
Fleeing to Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a thief with lofty aspirations who both robs him and saves him before forcing him to take her with him as he travels between the Londons in order to destroy the artifact. What starts out as a forced companionship becomes a necessary partnership as they must find a way to save Red London from forces that would have it’s magic for themselves.
So let’s talk about the characters, or actually lets talk about a character accessory. I’ve read a couple of reviews and they never miss mentioning Kell’s coat. His coat looks like any other coat, but by turning it inside out a couple times it can turn it into any number of coats. I actually loved how he himself didn’t even know how many coats were hidden inside and mentioned that he had found some coats that he had never been able to find again. I can’t say I didn’t want one after reading about it.
But now we can talk about characters, so lets start off with the main character, Kell. Other than his coat (which is awesome) Kell is a powerful magician, the adopted son/tool of the monarchy, and a handsome devil to boot, but he’s also torn inside by the missing memories of his past. I think the reason I like him so much is because he’s… normal. I mean he has a lot of things that most people don’t have (like living as a prince and having magical powers) but when he’s alone he is just like everyone else: uncertain, sentimental, and with a bit of innocence that makes him both curious and reckless. He has all the right characteristics in just the right amount for anyone about to begin their hero’s journey.
The other best character (that isn’t evil because the best characters are evil) is Lila, or Delilah but if you call her that you may walk away missing a head. The easiest way to describe Lila is confident, intelligent, cunning, and dangerous. She was a little irritating at first, but gets so much better so very quickly. By the end she was one of the best characters, and what I’ve read of the second book promises to only improve the beloved thief and aspiring pirate.
Actually, when it comes to all the characters I felt something for each of them, and that doesn’t mean they were all positive either. The villains of the story, Astrid and Athos Dane, are wonderfully evil in a way that made my skin crawl on more than one occasion. It’s not always easy to make a good villain, but they were both really good. They embodied the characteristics that I believe make up the best villains, including control over one’s emotions, lack of any moral compass, and being evil simply for the sake of being evil.
If I could wrap this review up into one phrase it would be that I couldn’t put the book down. There is a point of no return in every book, but A Darker Shade of Magic reached it incredibly early on. I wouldn’t say make sure you have a lot of time to sit down and read this book because few people have a lot of time to just sit and read, but I would say make the time and you won’t be disappointed. Other than having an artistic cover this book pulls you in from page one and holds onto you through the last word on the last page and into the first word of the second book. The only reason that I have stayed my eyes from devouring the next book is because it’s my wife’s book. I may be an obsessive and gluttonous reader, but even I have some dignity, and reading someone else’s book before they get the chance is one of the cardinal reading sins one can commit against another. It’s just below spoiling the ending of a new book and just above dog-earing the pages.
So sit down and buckle up (after grabbing a nice drink and a possibly a snack) and treat yourself to a story that will transport you to a place where you can travel between worlds.