by V.E. Schwab
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Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her 'proper adventure'.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.
What do I think? WHAT DO I THINK? I feel like slapping myself in the face for not giving A Darker Shade of Magic a chance earlier. Thoroughly enjoyable and original, Kell and Lila’s journey got me out of my reading slump faster than I could have dreamed.
Let’s find out why, shall we?
First of all, let me tell you something : I am in awe of the multi layered and unique world building V.E. Schwab created, where darkness is spreading from every pore, lurking in every London we discover. Yes, Londons, as there are several parallel worlds waiting for we readers to step through them. Four, to be exact, each and every one of them full of details and rules and history. If Kell, our main character, came up with names for all of them, I have to admit that Lila’s description suits me better (certainly because I have a soft spot for sarcastic cutthroats, but I’ll come back to that).
“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”
What I adored is the fact that even though some places are deadlier than others *cough* bone shaped floor! *cough*, V.E. Schwab did a splendid job at showing us (very important word here : showing!) that danger can take several forms, sometimes not in the way we expected. Indeed the thirst for power, for magic, hides behind every little door. This is followed by a sensation that nothing is never set in stone (hehe) : what can be better than this, really?
That’s why even though the pacing suffered a little in the beginning, I am not one to hold a grudge when the result is a fabulous world building.
As for the characters, where can I even start? Oh, yes : They’re complex and oh-so-interesting, none of them thoroughly pure or likeable, and I absolutely loved them for this exact reason.
First we have Kell, the orphaned (or is he?) magician whose loneliness fights daily with his power, whose intentions, while good, always suffer from the risks of being twisted into darkness. Yet he’s ready to do anything for the people he cares about, and his courage and wit won me pretty fast (also, his coat, duh).
And then, we have Lila, the fierce and driven thief who wants everything life can give her – and more. As far as strong female leads are concerned, Lila owns all, trust me : from her mind full of mischief to her ability to defend herself and to fight for what she wants, it was a true delight to follow her in her adventures.
“What are you?” he asked, amazed.
Lila only shrugged. “Stubborn.”
Not to mention that their dynamics together are amazing : they made me laugh and smile and tear out and fear, the swoony moments so very light that they let me eager for more.
More than multi-layered, these characters evolve, and I can’t wait to see where their paths will lead to.
► Wrap all the above in an evocative and clever writing, and what do you get? A book not to be missed. Mark my words.
Ps. I do realize that I didn’t talk about the plot and the (astounding) villain. I guess you’ll have to read it to know^^
Ps.2 I KNEW IT. *smug smile*