This is the second novel by V. E. Schwab and for those of you who have read Vicious - it is a completely different story. A Darker Shade of Magic is set around the reign of King George III, and is a story of three unknown London’s and one that is vaguely familiar. Each London is itself almost unique from the others; some are filled with magic, whilst others are barren. The world we know is Grey London, where the time period is set. Grey London does not have much magic and most people have forgotten that magic even exists. Red London is a vibrant place full of magic, where the people believe that magic is held in balance. White London is a dying place where magic is scarce and those that have it wield their power in acts of dominance and violence. Finally there is Black London whose world was closed from the other London’s centuries ago as the magic had taken over and contaminated everything it touched.
Our main character is Kell; he is one of the last of the Antari (magicians strong enough to travel between the London’s). I found Kell to be quite naive, throughout this book he seems to be naive to the politics of power between those he serves and those he has to communicate with for diplomacies sake. As well as being naive Kell is also quite arrogant, as he has never had to worry about what happens to people who have not grown up with his privilege and opportunities. Kell also resents this as he does not know who his real family is even though he has grown up as a member of the Royal Family of Red London. Kell reminded me of the character Sarah from the film The Labyrinth. As I read the book I was continually reminded of Sarah’s lines: “Through dangers untold and hardships unnumbered, I have made my way...” especially with the concluding line “You have no power over me”.
The other lead character comes from Grey London, Lila Bard, who is a pickpocket with a thirst for adventure. Lila could be seen as tragic figure and yet she doesn’t ask for pity and is trying to be as self sufficient as possible and hates the thought of being helped by others, although she is happy to take advantage of their unwariness of the world around them. Lila’s gung-ho nature is the complete opposite to Kell’s, whom she meets when he stumbles into Grey London after he has been given a forbidden item from Black London. Lila is willing to face danger even if she is unprepared to handle it as she will either survive or not, but it won’t matter as long as you are living for the new experiences. Lila has a goal in life and she is going to take every opportunity she can to make it happen. Lila is quite refreshing as a character, she is strong willed as well as not being relegated to a love interest in this story.
Both Kell and Lila have back stories shrouded in mystery that go unanswered in A Darker Shade of Magic, maybe this will be revealed in a sequel or maybe it will be left to our imaginations, but they work well as a team especially when they respect each other’s strengths and weaknesses. The other characters that flesh out this book seem to fall into the categories of their respective cities. The King and Queen of Red London are full of kindness and benevolence in stark contrast to the rulers of White London, Athos and Astrid Dane, twin rulers who have taken the White throne via bloodshed and their belief that their strength and might give them the right to rule. They are equally cruel and conniving, and have no intention of being overthrown by anyone who may match their magic. Athos and Astrid are scary people from their appearance of seeming to play with prey with anyone they come into contact with; they have few morals and rule with an iron fist.
For all this, I was slightly disappointed with the story; once I had finished the book the ending almost seemed too simple. As mentioned before, A Darker Shade of Magic really felt like the ending of Sarah’s story in The Labyrinth, with everything revealed and some lessons learnt for both Kell and Lila. The plot moved along at a nice pace, but for all its menace and the mystery surrounding Black London, the threat never felt truly convincing. Most of the characters were moved like pieces on a chess board rather than fully formed characters. If there is a sequel I hope that it focuses on Lila Bard, who really does make for an interesting character.
Review by Michelle Herbert
by VE Schwab
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