A Darker Shade of Magic
by Victoria Schwab
Cover Artist: Will Staeble
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765376459
Date: 24 February 2015 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
Three London's connected by magic and separated by history. Once there were four versions that were connected with constant flow between them Red, White, Grey, and Black. When Black London went too far in its use of magic, it ended up cut off from the others. All artifacts from Black London were destroyed.
Kell is one of the few people who can travel between the three versions of London. He is powerful, yet a captive because of his ability. He chaffs within his gilded cage, and performs little acts of defiance. One seemingly harmless act, sets off a chain of events that threatens his life, freedom, and all three Londons.
Delilah Bard gets by on her skills as a thief. She dreams of taking enough to see the world. She meets Kell by chance and begins the adventure of her life. She is willing to use whatever she has to change her circumstances. One that will take her between worlds and a chance for a new start.
The history of the worlds are quite different and the control and use varies a lot. Red London, Kell's home, has a lot of magic and is bright and free. White London has less magic, and fights to control all free magic. Grey London is Delilah's home and has very little magic, to the point where many don't even believe magic exists. The Royal Families of each London know about the other worlds, but each views the contact through a different perspective. Kell and his fellow world travelers feel the pull of the Royals.
The story unfolds, while slowly revealing the depth of the world and characters. Each chapter provides a bit more, always leaving just a little bit more to keep the reader wondering. The one thing readers never have to worry about is the quality of the prose. Schwab is a top flight wordsmith.
This is a new world for Schwab. The main characters, Kell and Delilah shade grey. They aren't evil, but they definitely are not the definition of good. Each is selfish in their own way, but they also care for some of the people around them and do not want to see them harmed. The tragedy is that their choices are harming those close to them. Their flaws make them more realistic. People do not always make great choices, it can be good to relate to characters that are as flawed as we are as individuals.
When I saw this novel was in development, I looked forward to see Schwab's take on magic. In Vicious, she explored super heroes with a less than typical route to power. Here she develops magic and the associated costs which follows the blood based path. There could be additional stories in this universe. I would love to see a foundation story that goes back to a time when all of the worlds were connected. Of course, when she gets back to full-time writing, we'll probably see something completely different.