A Darker Shade of Magic, by V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of MagicDespite what you may think, there’s more than one London (and, no, I’m not talking about London, Ontario). There are four, all occupying the same space in parallel universes, and Kell is one of the last people gifted with the magic to travel between them. In A Darker Shade of Magic he joins forces with pickpocket and aspiring pirate Lila Bard; he wants to save the world, she wants an adventure.

My absolute favourite part of this book was, hands-down, Lila Bard. Honestly, my biggest complaint was that we didn’t see more of her, though the way her story leaves off gives me hope she’ll be a major character if there’s a sequel. As it is, she’s one of the main characters, but she shares her time with Kell, whom I just didn’t find as intriguing. There’s nothing wrong with him, but, well, he also doesn’t have conversations like this:

‘I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.’ [he said]

‘I apologize for shooting you in the leg,’ said Lila. ‘I was myself entirely.’

-p. 381.

I mean, really, what’s not to love about a pickpocket who says you can never have too many lives and would rather ‘die on an adventure than live standing still’ (p. 194)?

I was enchanted, too, by the world-building in this novel. I’m not a city person, and definitely not a London person (too busy!), but I think that makes the parallel worlds all the more appealing, because Schwab has taken a pretty average Georgian city – Grey London – and given it a series of makeovers. There’s Red London, which actually sounds like a pretty cool place to live, and White London, which sounds like hell on earth, and Black London, which is only mentioned in fearful whispers. I particularly liked how London is an anomaly in this multi-verse; although it appears that the parallel universes all have the same natural geography, the political boundaries and nations are entirely different from one world to the next. Most books I’ve read that deal with parallel universes have more consistency between the worlds, with either minor distinguishing details or at least a degree of recognition between them. Diana Wynne Jones’ Chrestomanci series, for instance, features a world whose England resembles our own Edwardian England very closely, but for the prevalence of magic. Neither the country Red London inhabits nor the one White London resides in resembles our England even remotely; the closest we get is that in Red London the nobility speak English, with most people speaking the country’s native language, Arnesian (the country being called Arnes).

Overall I found this book an enjoyable and light-hearted read; although the subject matter can get quite dark, the overall tone remains optimistic.

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