Pirates, magic, and multiple worlds, oh my!
Kell is one of the last Antari, people who can use blood magic and travel between the different Londons. There are four Londons, and while they may share the same name, they are vastly different. There’s Grey London, where everyone speaks English and very few know of magic. There’s Red London, where Kell is owned/adopted by the royal family, and magic is a coveted art. There’s White London, ruled by the Dane Twins, who are as vicious as the land itself. And then there’s Black London…which no longer exists.
Once, the doors between the Londons were kept unlocked, but the overwhelming attack of Black London prompted the closing of the doors–and the flow of magic between worlds. As an Antari, Kell is one of the few left who can cross between them. He works as a messenger for the crown in title, but smuggles items between Londons on his trips. One day, he smuggles a terrible object, which is shortly pickpocketed fron him in Grey London. He must track down the stolen object and return it to its home, Black London, before the magic consumes him.
Where to start? The interesting plot? The amazing cast of characters? The excellent magic system and world building?
Well, I can start with the one drawback: the novel was a little slow starting off. It took me a while to get settled into Schwab’s universe, but once I was, it was smooth sailing from there.
This might also be due to the plot being sort of mediocre. It was easy to guess who was the antagonist (I mean, Lila literally calls White London “Creepy London”.) And while the Dane twins are fairly creepy and sadistic, they aren’t necessarily inspired antagonists. As such, the plot makes for some interesting fight scenes and political plays.
But if you’re really going to get hooked to this book, it will be because of the characters.
Kell and Lila are probably two of the most interesting characters I’ve read about in a while. Admittedly, longing for freedom isn’t new to the motivations of main characters, but something about Lila and Kell’s search for freedom feels different. Possibly because they aren’t sure what freedom is.
Kell is one of the last of his kind, a novelty that has powerful to do whatever he wants, but is hindered because he is so rare. Lila, on the other hand, struggles with never belonging anywhere, and yet is terrified of belonging to, well, anywhere.
The side characters, Rhy, Maxim, Emira, Holland, Barron, and Calla were great too, with good development and great interaction. All the relationships in the novel seemed genuine.
The magic system Schwab creates is amazing. Granted, we don’t really get to see the extent of what can be done, but what is shown is a pretty good glimpse of it. The magic comes in two flavours: elemental and blood. The elemental magic reminds me a lot of Nickelodeon’s Avatar, which makes for some great fight scenes. Blood magic, on the other hand, is what makes Kell so special, and is more “you can do anything you want with it”.
What I also really like about this novel is that while it’s the first of a series, it stands its ground as a stand alone fantasy. I really commend Schwab on doing this so well, considering how most first books nowadays tend to feel a little lacking due to setting up future plot.
Recommendation: Buy. A Darker Shade of Magic is definitely worth the buy. Readers looking for unique characters and an inventive magical system should definitely pick this up.