Recently finished A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab and I’m not sure what to say about it. I liked it while I read it, then I finished it, and completely forgot about it. It wasn’t one of those books that lingers in your mind for days after finishing it; as a matter of fact, I finished it a week ago and just plum forgot to write a review. I finished it, shrugged, picked up the next book, and moved right along with my life. It was interesting, unique, well-written, and altogether unremarkable.
Schwab’s main character, Kell, is one of very few advanced magicians who possess the ability to travel back and forth between parallel Londons. Red London, Kell’s home, is a peaceful and prosperous land where magic is widely used and revered; Grey London is impoverished and almost entirely ignorant of the existence of magic; White London is ruled by whichever murderous rogues can take the throne from the previous murderous rogues; Black London was destroyed by magic and is no longer mentioned. Kell’s official position under the throne of Red London is to carry messages from the monarchs of one London to the others, but he secretly, and illegally, smuggles minor artifacts from each realm to interested, paying parties in others. One day, Kell’s smuggling gets him into trouble and threatens the safety and prosperity of Red London and its inhabitants. With the help of an enthusiastic thief, Lila Bard, Kell must attempt the impossible and try to cross all the realms in order to save them all.
I liked the idea of parallel versions of the same city and the ability to travel between them; I thought that was unique and I appreciated reading something original. However, I think a few issues were glossed over in order to get down to business that should have been explained a bit further. We’re not sure why there are four versions of the same city and how they came to be this way; we don’t know if it’s four parallel worlds and thus every city has other versions, or if London is the only one; we know that Kell is part of a long tradition of randomly-selected specialized magicians, and we get the impression that there is one other like him in White London, but we know of no others in any city in any of the four worlds. I understand that the focus of the story is on the Londons, but it seems that too little focus was placed on the rest of the world(s) which creates holes in my perception of this plot line. If there are only two of Kell’s kind, why are they both in London(s)? Wouldn’t it be prudent to spread them out so the other cities/countries can also have magic men? And if London is the only city with parallel realities, why isn’t anybody freaking out about this? I understand that these issues may make no difference in terms of what’s happening during the book, but when an alternate reality is created, questions will understandably arise, and a quick sentence or two to answer those questions is preferable to just ignoring something as obvious as the world outside of London.
I have a lot of questions about this book, but overall I liked it. The main characters were relatable, the villains were hatable, and the plot was unique and much appreciated. It’s apparently the first in a series, so I’m sure one day I’ll pick up the others. Read it if you want, but if you don’t, it’s no skin off my back. As always, let me know what you think. Am I making a mountain out of a mole hill, or does it matter that the surroundings be as developed as the main plot lines? I’m plowing through Jurassic Park now (and loving it) and I’ll work on The Grace of Kings until my holds become available. For now, let’s campaign to get Hannah to come back!