The short: 4/5 ✦. An excellently written novel with blood magic, black magic, Red London, Grey London, fancy coats, a future pirate captain, and the young magician caught up in it all.
It’s nice when books happen good. As of this writing, I’ve seriously been on a roll of good reading and it’s SUPER AWESOME.
I’ve read Schwab before, her YA The Archived series, which I also loved (a book about books is probably always gonna be a win for me). She’s one of those talented authors where her prose is neither overly descriptive or needlessly sparse but just right and flows very naturally and makes me very jealous. A Darker Shade of Magic is obstinately an adult book, but it is perfectly suitable for YA (the protagonists are fairly young, to boot).
I love magic and I love fantasy, and I believe I’m slowly starting to favor urban fantasy more than the medieval stuff, simply because there’s so much of that, and I’m on a kick of looking for something new. To be fair, this book still takes place in the past, during the reign of King George III in London – or rather, Grey London. But it’s just recent enough that it can take liberties with history (and AUs) and also seem fantastical.
There’s a lot of world-building in the beginning of A Darker Shade of Magic, which makes it seem a little slow. Schwab takes pains to make sure the reader understands what’s going on, what the different Londons are, how magic works, who the characters are, etc. It’s not overwhelming, per se, but certain elements get repeated more than once, reiterating their importance, which may or may not be necessary depending on how quickly you can pick things up. In any case, once all the pieces are in play and the game is afoot, the plot rockets along to an adrenaline-fueled finale. I was greatly impressed how much I liked Lila, despite her archetypal tough-gal attitude. Schwab manages to develop her with enough internal fragility and intrigue that makes her fairly unique (and a certain future plot twist? hmm . . .). And Kell has emotional turmoil and blood powers and owns a fancy magical coat and so is amazing.
Despite all the exposition, I wish there was slightly more information on magic, especially since there’s so many different kinds. I did like that it had rules and the logic of how magic worked was strictly adhered to, both in and out of universe. I believe more exploration will be forthcoming in the sequel, so I’m pretty excited for that.
Header image: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, published February 24th 2015 by Tor Books.