Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Darker Shade of Magic

Hi there, I see you're about to use the box puzzle to find your bookish affinity.  Yes, earth, air, fire, and water are important, but it's time to find your destiny in books.  So here we go!

Do you love books about parallel universes?

Do you love Star Wars?

Do you enjoy watching kick-butt heroines whale on men who deserve to have their teeth kicked out and shoved in their eyes?

Do you love magical languages?

Do you love a well-cut frock coat?

If yes to all of the above, your affinity is to V.E. Schwab's magnificent book A Darker Shade of Magic.  If you answered "no" to any of these questions, you may wish to go home and rethink your life.

Honestly, what can I say about this novel that hasn't already been said?  There is an emote in Battlefront where you can make your character shake uncontrollably and shriek incoherently.  I was emoting that while reading A Darker Shade of Magic.


Kell is a Traveler, one of the few beings left who can pass through the barriers separating four very different versions of London.  He can do so because he is Antari--a powerful magician.  To be frank, a blood magician.

Now don't clutch your pearls and think "Ahh!  He's going around slitting people's throats!"  In his home, Red London, everyone has some sort of magical ability.  Antari can draw power from blood and use it to travel in between worlds, and Kell's arms are marked with the slashes of his knife.  He is one of the last two of his kind; Antari suffered from a lot of witch-hunts.  Abandoned as a baby, the royal family of Red London, Avris, raised him with their own son, Prince Rhy.  Kell carries messages back and forth between the three remaining Londons: Grey London, which is our own, without magic; Red London, where magic surges from the river and paints everything as a happy, magical paradise; and White London, a kingdom slowly consuming itself in the quest to hoard forbidden magic.  Black London, the most powerful of all, was cut off from the other three centuries ago, as it began to destroy itself from within.  Something went very, very wrong with the magic in Black London: it began to consume the humans living there, almost like a virus.  But powerful magic still bleeds through the barriers.

Thus, being a Traveler is an extremely rare ability.  But, there's a catch.  Isn't there always?  You can't bring anything from one London to another.  Forbidding something simply encourages black markets, which seems to be something that no government has really understood, despite millennia of examples.  There are some people in the different Londons who are willing to pay a high price for a piece of another London.  Kell simply ... facilitates matters.

But his brother, Rhy, who also happens to be the Crown Prince of Red London, realizes that his brother and best friend could get in serious trouble for this if he's found out.  And this coming from a rather jovial, devil-may-care flirt.  Because he loves his family and his London, Kell resolves not to take one more artifact.  Not one more.

Meanwhile, back in Grey London, Lila Bard needs a place to stay.  One that preferably won't turn her in to the authorities.  Her last set of lodgings got a little heated, and when you're a wanted thief, you can't just show up any old place and ask for rooms, never mind that the Crown thinks you're a guy when you're really a girl.  Begrudgingly, she makes her way back to a tavern called the Stone's Throw, which also happens to be what Kell calls a fixed point: it exists in all the versions of London that he knows, only under a different name.

Kell agrees to deliver a jagged black stone to someone's relative, only to find out that it is the opposite of a harmless delivery: the stone is relic of Black London, and has the mark of Antari--of magic--on its surface.  He's hunted by everyone, including the other Antari, Holland, who is bound to serve the twin king and queen of White London.  Wounded, Kell stumbles through back into Grey London and is immediately pickpocketed by Lila.

Thus begins an unusual partnership.  When held, the black stone infuses its wearer with pure magic, black, inky, and deadly.  It amplifies a magician's power but also begins to control him, a bit like the One Ring in Tolkien.  Lila, not having any obvious magical powers, can carry the stone, although she too hears its silken whispering.  Plus, what is left for her in Grey London?  She'd rather go on a suicide mission and see the worlds than live her life hunted in a stinking, smoking hovel.

I absolutely adored this book.  It's bursting with adventure and menace.  Lila and Kell each have lively, unique voices that made me laugh and fall in love with them.  Despite being a master magician, Kell is still fallible.  And despite being from the least advanced of the Londons, Lila is quick, clever, and oddly, rather suited to a life of magic.  Holland was a deliciously creepy, yet strangely sympathetic villain, while his enslavers, Athos and Astrid, are pure corruption.  You won't think of white as being pure again, that's for sure!

Victoria Schwab has created a rich, wonderful world in A Darker Shade of Magic, and I cannot wait to read the sequel, which, thankfully, is about to be published!

So get out your piratical gear and super-awesome multidimensional coats, have a sharp knife at the ready, and know your words of power, because this is an amazing ride.


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