One of the most compelling things about the novel A Darker Shade of Magic is the way it reads like young adult fiction. The paragraphs are short and the pace is fast, but that is about all the two have in common. Even though many YA Fantasy novels can have blackness in them, A Darker Shade of Magic is grimmier than all those Hunger Game-esque books. It goes deep into deceit, torture and death, but it takes some time to make it there.
While that might not sound incredibly appealing, in truth the time that V.E. Schwab takes to get to the main plot of the story is essential. It builds the world upon world, upon world, upon world in which the characters will travel. These places, of different Londons, each have their own unique qualities, which must be established and explored in order for the reader to end up caring about what happens to them. And the people in them. We start of with the Antari, Kell, one of the shrinking race of the naturally gifted magicians.
Kell is an appealingly complicated character. He’s part put-upon reluctant hero and part naturally gifted resource; often used instead considered. While Kell revels in his power (striking a chord like that of Diana Wynne Jones’ nine-lived Chretomanci) and is afforded a deep respect, especially in his home of Red London, he suffers from a sense of self-pity that he expresses by smuggling small goods between theLondons. Dangerously, that self-pity leaves him little room to afford others any who suffer from greater problems than he, such characters as the onoly other Antari, Holland, who serves in the downtrodden and war riddled White London. Or his counter part and the stories other main character Delilah Bard; a street urchin in the completely without magic Grey London.
Delilah, or Lila as she prefers, is a regular cutthroat. A young woman who has been forced so many times to not take the high road and defend herself that death and dealing it comes easy to her. Easy enough that she even enjoys the notion and has an affinity for blades. She is almost a neccessity to Kell, a person willing to get her hands dirty in the good old-fashioned way, without magic. Lila also becomes a sort of anchor, or a point in the ether, in which Kell can hold on to when the threat of dark magic strikes.
I’m eager to get on to the second book to see what becomes of all the madness that seemingly came to a tempestuous resolution. This is one of those adult fantasy novels that does a fantastic job of taking the reader into a different world (or four different worlds in this case) while not hanging on to any of the adult themes other fantasy novels usually have. For those who like fantasy fiction without all the sexual context, this is a great one.