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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Book clubs are a great way to be exposed to books outside of your typical reading routine. It’s easy to fall into a reading-rut, selecting your favorite go-to genres, because you know those books will hold something you will like. When I look for something new to read, I often scour through the creative nonfiction, literary fiction, or mystery/thriller (not horror) bookshelves of my local bookstores. However, I recently joined a book club and discovered a new genre that I know I will be reading more from: Fantasy.

The first book I read as part of this already established book club was A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. It is the first in the Shades of Magic trilogy that follows Kell, an Antari Magician, through the worlds of four separate and distinct Londons. Kell is one of two remaining Antaris, and only Antaris can travel between the four Londons. To differentiate between the worlds, Kell started to identify them by colors that held significance to each land. Red London (his London) is the healthy empire. Grey London is the magic-less city. White London is the starving world. Black London is known as the lost city. The reader first finds Kell passing into Grey London to bring a letter from his queen in Red London to King George III. He often frequents the same tavern in each London, though in each London it has a different name. Here, in Grey London, it is known as the Stone’s Throw.

In Grey London, we become acquainted with the young Lila Bard, a thief and pickpocket with dreams of traveling the high seas on a pirate ship – her own pirate ship. When on the take, she hides her femininity with an overcoat and hat; wanted posters plastered around her London display shadows of a young man. She finds great delight in her disguise, knowing how successfully she’s been able to conceal her identity thus far. Lila’s been living on a docked ship called the Sea King, owned by a man named Powell, who demands a portion of her daily take as payment for her living quarters.

Holland, the other Antari, lives in White London and is bound in service to the twin rulers, Athos and Astrid, who reign over, control, and terrorize this London. Kell only travels to White London when he must, often striving to leave as quickly as possible. During one trip, he ignored is gut and went to the Scorched Bone for a drink before leaving. There, he ran into a woman who shouldn’t have known he was Antari. She asked him to take a letter back to his London with him, to deliver it to a family member. Along with it she handed him an unknown parcel, which she insisted he not take it out until he arrived at his destination.

Taking this unknown item with him was trouble-enough, but when he discovered what the parcel held, he knew danger wasn’t far away. After Lila innocently crosses his path, he finds himself desperate to retrieve the object and return it to where it belongs – Black London. Will he be able to live long enough to save the existing worlds?

V.E. Schwab does an excellent job of creating and describing these separate Londons and developing the characters within. This first book in the trilogy is both action-packed and entertaining. I highly recommend A Darker Shade of Magic, particularly the collector’s edition with end papers featuring fan art of the main characters, and an appendix with other extras like a glossary of the Arnesian and Antari terms used throughout the book. Don’t miss this other-worldly adventure!

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