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A Darker Shade of Magic
a Book Review of the Novel by V. E. Schwab
After reading City of Brass, I thought that a story about a thief with potentially latent magical powers and a powerful and magical prince was unique, but A Darker Shade of Magic refutes my claim.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab is about Kell, a rare breed of magician who is able to use blood magic to travel between three Londons: Grey London, Red London, and White London. There is a fourth London, Black London, that was cut off from the others because of a magical plague that threatened all four worlds. Kell, despite being adopted by the royal family, knows he is a slave to Red London because of his unique abilities. In mild rebellion, Kell acts out by illegally smuggling goods between worlds until, one day, he smuggles an artifact that changes his life.
Kell is assisted on his journey by Delilah Bard, a renegade thief. Lila’s defining characteristic is her strong conviction. Lila is a female heroine who is relatable yet doesn’t hesitate to murder her enemies. This is a balance that a lot of authors get wrong. They make female character’s who are relatable because they always do the nice thing, not because they do the right thing.
In the fist 100 pages of the book, Lila proves to the reader that she is a strong capable woman by murdering her attacker in a gratuitous rape scene. I’m bringing up this scene because rape or an attempted rape is a common cliche used in fantasy novels and tv shows (The Outlander Series and The Eon series to name a few). Lila defies expectations by murdering her attempted rapist and, unflinchingly, setting him on fire. I don’t like it when authors use of rape to represent stratifications of power in novels — it is icky and frankly unnecessary. Lila already shows her badassery by conning the cops and fighting other enemies — I wish the author had chosen to show Lila’s strength and relentlessness without this low-brow fantasy convention.
Nevertheless, the writing in A Darker Shade of Magic is extremely precise and readable. The language in the novel is easy to digest and the plot is fun and entertaining. This book does not start in medias res, the middle of the plot; it starts at the very beginning. Consequently, the first 100 pages are drawn out and anticlimactic as the author builds the foundations of the world. However, the pace of the novel picks up dramatically once Kell smuggles something he shouldn’t.
If you're someone who hates romance in science fiction books, A Darker Shade of Magic offers a brief respite. There is some chemistry between Kell and Lila but romance is not the focus of the novel. Lila is a great character; she is an androgynous woman who loves to see herself in a sharp suit. It’s not everyday where the main female character in a novel has a makeover scene that leaves her looking more masculine than when she started.
In some ways I’m surprised that a A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a trilogy because the novel is very self-contained. There are just a few loose plot lines, but I’m excited enough by those dangling threads that I’ll gladly sew the sequel.
The Don’t Call Me Ishmael Official Book Rating, Sponsored by Orcas: A Darker Shade of Whale:
4/5 Whales — A Tail for the Ages.