Kell is one of the last Antari — magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes — Red London — and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
Author: V.E. Schwab | Publisher: Tor Books
“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
A Darker Shade of Magic is a breath of fresh air in the fantasy genre. Don’t get me wrong, I love fantasy, but this one was just so light (in writing style, not subject matter) and enchanting and magical. I instantly fell in love with the world and its characters — even the bad ones.
We open with Kell, who is an Antari — aka he can travel between different worlds using blood magic. There are four worlds, and each of them are very different, except that they all have a city called London in exactly the same place. They’re Red London (Kell’s), Gray London (ours), White London (kinda evil place tbh), and Black London (which self-destructed on magic and is sealed off for everyone else’s good). We also have Delilah (Lila) Bard, a pickpocket who dreams of bigger adventures — specifically, becoming a pirate. When Kell is tricked into bringing a seriously awful, evil magical thing across Londons, he runs away to Gray London and smack into her. Then we get to watch them team up to save the world.
This was my first V.E. / Victoria Schwab book (I know, I know), and I loved it. She’s so direct and to-the-point. She doesn’t waste any pages on filler or hemming and hawing — instead, she jumps right into whatever will develop her characters or her plot next. As a person who doesn’t care much for drawn-out fight scenes, especially, I was a big fan of her style.
She also doesn’t leave you on a cliffhanger, which is kinda gutsy and actually so considerate. She just trusts that her readers will come back, that they’ll want to re-enter her universe and hang out with her characters some more. (She was right.)
Kell, Lila, Rhy, even Holland — you have my heart. See you in book two.