A Darker Shade of Magic has been on my TBR list for several months. It even sat on my coffee table for a couple weeks before I was forced to renew it from the library. But lo, I finally got around to reading it. AND I AM SO GLAD.
In a nutshell, it’s a fantasy involving 4 parallel Londons wherein exceptional magicians called Antari are used as royal pawns to send messages between Londons. And while the Antari (there are two: Kell and Holland) can pass through the Londons, smuggling of goods from other Londons is strictly forbidden. Strictly. “Transference is treason,” doth say the King.
So naturally, our protagonist Kell is a goods smuggler! Despite the Royal Family taking in Kell as one of their own and essentially adopting him, it’s obvious that Kell feels like he lacks agency. The smuggling is definitely a way for him to have some semblance of control. And this comes to bite him majorly when he accidentally smuggles a magical object so powerful that it’s capable of collapsing all of the Londons. And things REALLY go haywire when he runs into Lila Bard, an aspiring pirate and full-time thief, pick-pockets said magical object.
I loved this book, y’all. It’s a fun, engaging read with interesting characters. Lila Bard is one of the coolest protagonists I’ve read in a while. She reminds me a lot of one of my all-time favorite characters, Lina Inverse of ’90s fantasy novel/anime/manga series Slayers. Feisty antiheroine with a penchant for destruction? Yes, please and thank you. Lila is not your stereotypical leading lady, and she’s constantly filling in the role usually assigned to male characters.
What really made the book for me was V.E. Schwab is very attuned to showing, and not telling. Throughout the first part of the book, it’s as if layer after layer is peeled as the reader follows Kell through his travels between Londons. Although the entrance into her 4 Londons felt like a bit of a slow-burn at first, it pays off when the plot starts to come together with the fallout of said powerful magical object and its impact on her worlds. This also applies to her characters–readers don’t need to be told of a character’s sexual orientation as it comes up organically in the story (Prince Rhy, FWIW, who is Kell’s brother). I really hate it when you’re introduced to a character and the author is “this is so&so. they’re [x].” Don’t tell me. That’s lazy. Tangentially, this is one of the reasons I didn’t like Simon vs. the Homo Sapien Agenda as there was too much of the narrator saying “this is so&so. They’re [gay, a nerd, black, some basic element].”
Just read this book, y’all. If you like fantasy and sci fi, you’re in for a fun ride. And there’s a second book, A Gathering of Shadows! Which I spent all of last Sunday reading and the cliffhanger ending is killing me because the 3rd book, recently announced as A Conjuring of Light, doesn’t come out until February of next year! Ahhhhhhhggghhh. Maybe I can use some Librarian Powers to get an ARC?
I loved this book so much that it demands immediate re-reading just to get it out of my system. Oof. You can also do what I’ve done and enjoy some fanart while you’re at it.
Some random stuff that I couldn’t fit elsewhere:
- Lila Has a Dirty Mind: One of Lila’s first acts with the magical stone is creating a clone of Kell that immediately starts seductively removing its clothes while the real Kell is indignant and captive.
- ADSOM is going to be made into a short TV series!
- Ignore the people who categorized this as Young Adult on Goodreads. V.E. Schwab = Victoria Schwab, a YA author who writes as V.E. Schwab for her adult books. She ain’t kidding because this book is pretty violent.
- WP isn’t cooperating with captions for my mini-fanart gallery, but the artists are Victoria Ying, Jangmanzanares, and Lokoba. Stellar work!
- Maybe I’m going out on a limb, but given Lila’s magic potential, I can’t help but wonder if there’s some sort of connection with Kell originally being nameless save for the initials of K.L. on an item he had on his person as a child???