Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor on February 24, 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
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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.
A Darker Shade of Magic is richly atmospheric, darkly magical, and whimsical in it’s storytelling. It posits the idea of parallel worlds, where London seems to be a fixed point, if the rest of the world isn’t. Four Londons, to be exact, each with a corresponding color describing their status (in Kell’s mind, at least): Red London, Kell’s home, and full of magic and life and love. Grey London, where magic is all but forgotten, and seems to look like what our world might have in the 1800’s. White London, where magic is a vicious weapon, and horrible tyrants rule with sadism. And Black London, which has effectively been destroyed by magic.
Kell is an Antari, a magic user whose blood allows him to travel between these different Londons. Kell is supposed to only do official Crown business on these trips, but he’s a bit of a smuggler, and smuggling items from the different Londons is strictly against the law. This isn’t much of a problem until Kell is asked to deliver an item of immense power into his London. Then all hell breaks loose.
Kell is extremely likable, though I wanted him to be slightly more powerful or resourceful. He was supposed to be this amazing magician but he seemed to be in tight places that he couldn’t get himself out of quite often. That weakness aside, he’s definitely a likable hero, with a dynamic and rich character. Lila, on the other hand, was not so likable for me. She’s a thief from Grey London, and really until about the last fourth of the book, she irritated the crap out of me. She was one of those characters that was going to do whatever she wanted, no matter what everyone else (namely Kell) said. And Kell knows WAY more than her and it bothered me that she wouldn’t listen to him. Fortunately, near the end, she started trusting him and stopped being such an idiot. I think I will like her quite a bit more in the future.
The real strength of this book is the whimsy and interest of the different Londons. The magic was interesting, though not terribly unique (although I’d still like to see more of the Antari blood magic in the future). The rulers of White London are the stuff of nightmares, providing a solid conflict and high stakes for Kell to get the job done and to do it quickly.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect read for anyone who likes whimsically dark fantasy stories with clever heroes and sadistic bad guys.
Content: Dark themes, violence, language. Recommended for 17+ (Note: this is not Young Adult).