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A Darker Shade of Magic Kindle-editie
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Just a bit of brief plot summary for context. There are four Londons in this novel, and a select few individuals can magically travel among them. These are referred to as Grey London, Red London, White London, and Black London, and they are different in how magic affects each world, in how (and by whom) it can be used in each world (the equivalent of *our* world is Gray London). The action takes place in the first three; no one has visited Black London in quite a long time. Only London is the same in each world; in other worlds, there is no France, for example, and not even a proper "England" in Red London.
The parallel worlds thing has been done quite a lot in fantasy, but I am fine with that. I like the twist here, that one of our two main characters (Kell, more on him in a bit) is not from our world, but is from Red London, where magic is ubiquitous. (Often, in such stories, including those by Guy Gavriel Kay in the Fionavar Tapestry, in Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, in Charles Stross's more sci-fi-based Merchant Princes series, etc., it is people from our world traveling elsewhere. So it is nice to see a different perspective.) I also like that this is not set in the present day, but instead in the past. So even though theme is familiar, there are some alterations that manage to make it unique.
We have two main characters, Kell and Lila. Kell is from Red London, as previously mentioned, while Lila is from Grey London. Both have mysterious pasts; Kell remembers basically nothing before he was taken in by the royal family of Arnes (the country containing Red London) due to his magical abilities. (He is an Antari, marked by having one normal eye and one that is completely black. There are very few Antari, and they are the only ones able to travel among the worlds. They also have nearly unparalleled magical abilities, in general.) Lila is alone on the streets, making a living (such that it is) as a pickpocket and dreaming of being a pirate with her own ship.
The two of them encounter one another maybe 1/3 of the way through the story and they travel and work together through much of the rest of the book. I wouldn't say their first encounter seems contrived, because there are some uncanny parallels between their two worlds, such as a particular inn/tavern that seems to be co-situated in all three of the Londons Kell has visited, the existence of London and the Thames, etc. Since they both live in London and visit the inn (different Londons and different inns, but eerily the same, as well), it seems they are fated to meet. And their abilities complement one another. Sometimes the secrecy and stealth of a thief is needed, sometimes reputation and magical fighting ability are better suited to the situation. I think they are a good team. There is no romance between them in this book, though it is possible something like that could be set up for the future. Kell's reputation and duties are such that he doesn't seem to be looking for love or to have the time for it (or the trust to share with someone else), while Lila masquerades as a man and doesn't have what would be considered traditional aspirations for a young woman in the society from which she hails. I find the lack of romance refreshing, especially in a mixed-gender pair like this.
The other thing I like about the characters is that they have nice depth. Both have secrets (including a tantalizing one about Lila revealed about halfway through; I can't wait to see where that goes in future books), both have killed (not just in self-defense), both have flaws, both have their own moral codes that might not be exactly the same as yours or mine. And yet, you are still cheering for them, and not just because other characters are worse. Both are quite sympathetic.
Moving on, there is a lot of action in this book and I think it is well-written. It can be difficult to describe magical battles such that the reader can envision everything that happens, but I felt that was not an issue here. (There were also physical battles, weapons like guns/knives, etc.) I felt there were adequate dangerous situations for both Kell and Lila (and some of their associates); although not everything turned out as I expected, neither just skated through. They ran into difficulties, they had to be resourceful. The sense of danger and the well-written fights made me feel like the plot was always moving forward, and at a nice pace, at that.
Speaking of the plot, I felt that it was basically self-contained in this book. There were endings for Lila and Kell. But, there were also some interesting possibilities laid out for future books. I am not yet sure where the overall series arc will take us (presumably we will learn the secrets of Lila's and Kell's pasts in future volumes -- I am not yet enough into volume two to see if that is true); however, there are some interesting possibilities for where things could go in the future.
I also liked the writing. As mentioned earlier, it was especially good during action sequences. But I also thought it was good at setting the scene for each of the different Londons. If you opened the book to a random part and didn't know which London you were in, I think you'd be able to guess based on the setting. And, when you were inside the protagonists' heads, their thoughts were different. They had different personalities, different aspirations, different goals. They were not just two aspects of the author projected onto the page. So that was also done well.
If I had one criticism, it would be that there were a few too many instances of characters being saved from very dire situations or being able to fight when they ought to have been incapacitated. It made for dramatic action, but it was perhaps not quite as believable within the context of the story as the author would have wanted. This is a common issue in fantasy novels, and considering that some degree of magical healing is accounted for here (as well as some consequences), it is not an unforgivable writing sin.
Anyway, on balance, I enjoyed this quite a bit. It was a nice break from the epic fantasy I've been reading lately and I'm glad I picked it up!
Sigh. I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. Pretty much everyone I know told me how amazing this series was, but I hard a hard time with this one. I think there are a couple reasons for this:
1. The hype going in
2. the narration (I listened to the audio). The narrator did terrible female voices. Honestly, some of the worst I’ve ever heard. I listened to this on the heels of Illuminae, which is easily the very best audio book I’ve ever listened to, but still, this was bad. His male voices were good, but maaaannnnn those female voices. *cringes*
The story also moved a bit slow for me for about the first 50% of the book. There was a lot of world building and character development (the world Schwab creates was pretty amazing), but this made for a slow start.
With that being said, I did enjoy the book once I got past the halfway point. The two main protagonists are well developed and complex, and even the supporting characters are engaging.
I rated it 4/5 stars because while it was slow moving for me, I can appreciate the incredible world building that was cause for it being a little slow to start.
– While it didn’t quite live up to the hype for me, I will continue the series. The second and third books have a different narrator so I would be willing to give those a shot again.
“In truth, the cities themselves bore little resemblance to one another…” (Schwab, 15).
The Plot: A Darker Shade of Magic will take you in to a world where four Londons exist in parallel. Our main character, Kell, keeps these worlds separated in his mind by calling them Red London, White London, Grey London, and Black London. As an Antari, a rare magical being, he is one of the only two people in the world who can travel between these parallel Londons, due to a struggle with magic and power from long ago that resulted in the doors between Londons being shut. Among his journey between Londons, to keep the peace between their rulers, he discovers something powerful and dangerous that could destroy the balance he tries so desperately to keep. He meets an unlikely ally in the fierce, spunky, independent Delilah Bard, and has to make a deadly decision that could affect the future of the parallel Londons and their rulers. Can he save his precious London, the parallel Londons, and Lila?
“Only those few who could move among the Londons needed a way to keep them straight. And so Kell-inspired by the lost city known to all as Black London-had given each remaining capital a color.” (Schwab, 15).
A Darker Shade of Magic is a story that is rich in mystery, magic, and intrigue. I found myself quickly turning each page to find out more about Kell, Lila, and the amazing parallel Londons. I was under Schwab’s spell and densely immersed in to this bizarre world where magic runs rampant through the cities. The world building in this one was incredible, and though the character building may have lacked just a hair, that only added to the mystery and enchantment of the story. I loved the idea of parallel cities and enjoyed the different characters.
Kell was such a mystery to me. I enjoyed reading his character, and yet felt that I hardly knew him at all. He was so hard to picture in my mind, but that added so much intrigue to his past and his involvement in the story. I hope to find out more about him in the next books.
“As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos…” (Schwab, 44).
Lila was such a fun character! I LOVED her! To make a well known comparison for readers, I pictured Kiera Knightly and her Pirate of the Caribbean character as Lila! She was brave, strong, feisty, and self-sufficient in her life. Even though she was a thief, she had a good set of morals and I think she paired well with Kell.
“Lila Bard knew in her bones that she was meant to be a pirate.” (Schwab, 64).
The rest of the characters, Holland, Rhy, and the rulers of each London, were developed just enough to make fine supportive characters. I feel like Holland was a good contrast to Kell and Rhy was quite entertaining to read. I would love to learn more about the Grey King and am certain we will learn more of Rhy in the next books.
If you enjoy magic, mystery, intrigue, and a great “Twilight Zone” like story, then A Darker Shade of Magic is for you. I would rate this book 4 stars. I cannot wait to find out what happens next!
Historical Urban Fantasy isn’t something I find very often but I usually enjoy it when I do.
Most people are going to like Kell. And why wouldn’t you? He is a little bit naughty, magical, broody, angsty and tradgic with a lost past. Plus he has a fantastic coat that is actually 5 different coats in one that is added to the magical book items I’d love to have.
And I do like Kell quite a bit but Lila was the character that called to me the most in this. She is snarky, deceptive, innovative, bold, uncouth, impetuous, brave and wants to be a pirate when she grows up. What was not to love?
***Lila wondered, not for the first time, if something was wrong with her. Barron used to say so, but Barron was a bore. Looking for trouble, he’d say. You’re gonna look till you find it.
Trouble is the looker, she’d answer. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first.***
This is set in a slightly different world I like to think of as a sandwich.
Layer one: Grey London ( no magic at all) Lila lives here
Layer two: Red London (Beautiful Red Powerful Magic) Kell lives here and this London is practically perfect in every way
Layer three: White London (Creepy Weird Magic) Something is really amiss in this violent decaying place
Layer four: Black London (Evil Magic Rules Here) Actually this place is so overrun with magic that it has be shut off and blocked from the rest of the London’s so it’s magic doesn’t leak through.
Kell is a rare breed of magic user that can travel between all the Londons. Usually he is a messenger for Royalty between the Londons but that is about to change when a piece of Black London ends up in his hands and it could be the thing that might open up the doors and let the magic of Black London through if he can’t find a way to get it back.
This ended up being a really fast read for me. The set up takes a minute but once Kell and Lila meet we were off to the races and I couldn’t read it fast enough. They have this great chemistry together on the page and no it isn’t what you are thinking there is not really even much of a romance going on between them they are just so different and so they play off one another very well.
***. “What are you?” she asked.
“A monster,” said Kell hoarsely. “You’d better let me go.”
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. “Monsters don’t faint in the presence of ladies.”
“Ladies don’t dress like men and pick pockets,” retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. “What are you really?”
“Tied to your bed,” said Kell matter- of- factly.
His brow furrowed. “And in trouble.”****
Lila really made this story for me. I loved the character that she was just finding out about magic in the world and instead of being reluctant she is ready to jump into this new word doing a cannonball and create as big of a splash as possible.
The piece of magic from Black London was really intriguing and I liked seeing how it was different than the magic Kell knew how use. I really wanted to get a look inside of Black London to see if it was really as bad as they suspect.
When doors ran between your world and mine, and others, and anyone with a bit of power could pass through. Magic itself could pass through. But the thing about magic,” added Kell, “is that it preys on the strong- minded and the weak- willed, and one of the worlds couldn’t stop itself. The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls.”
All and all I really liked this book. Kell is an interesting character and I liked the little hints given for the direction that his story is might go. His past is a mystery but he was raised by the king and queen so one has to wonder if they are part of the cause of his past being a mystery or if they adopted him since his magic would be a valuable tool. Lila’s potential is just as great. For someone that comes from a world with no magic it will be interesting to see what she can do in worlds with it and how much more trouble she can get into.
Rys is Kell’s brother the Prince. They are close and I love the bond between them. Rys got to be the playboy in this book but I wonder if he will get a larger role in the continuation of the series after what happened in this one. I think that man would flirt with a plant if he thought it would sit up and take notice.
***“You are surely not an intrusion,” he said, pushing himself up in the bed. “Though I fear you’ve met me rather out of my usual state of grace. Do you have a name?”
Delilah Bard,” she said. “We’ve met before. And you looked worse.”
Rhy laughed silently. “I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”
“I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”***
If you are a fan of UF and 19th century London then this could be just what you were looking for.