I’d heard a lot about V E Schwab’s newest fantasy, A Darker Shade of Magic, even before I got my grubby mitts on a copy, and have to say that it’s probably one of the most original fantasy novels I’ve read in a long while…
As alternative settings go, London isn’t a bad place to start, as I’m sure fans of Ben Aaronovitch’s best-selling Rivers of London series will attest, but if I then told you that this particular London sits central to a parallel universe comprising Red, Grey, White and Black instances of London, I suspect you may at least be intrigued. So, we have Red London, a place where magic is generally revered and respected, and from whence our main protagonist hails, the magician traveller called Kell; then Grey London which is an all-round grimier affair, where magic shouldn’t exist and its ruler is the mad King George III; White London is a place where magic rules the roost and the more people that fight to control it, the more it fights back to maintain a balance; and finally, there’s Black London, a place most people prefer didn’t exist at all, and sensibly sealed off from the other London towns in an effort to protect them from the all-consuming darkness.
All of these Londons share the same physical space, separated by magic portals littered throughout the city, and it’s through these that trinket collector/smuggler Kell hops as he goes about his business collecting, selling, and trading tiny nuggets of magical goodness across the worlds, all the while acting as messenger service from one to the next. Of course it all goes pear-shaped when he comes across a strangely beguiling black stone, or rather, half of one… attracting the interest of many, including the viciously evil Holland, the only other known Antari blood magician… Enter Delilah Bard, a smart thief who steals the stone from Kell and subsequently becomes embroiled in the fate not just of the stone itself, but of all the magic across all the worlds. Needless to say it’s a thrilling ride, with Kell’s ‘impossible’ coat of many colours standing out as just one of the more memorable objects in this brilliant tale.
This is a speedy read too, helped immensely by plenty of shorter chapters (always a winner with me) and that magic ingredient: a constant desire to push on and find out what happens next. A Darker Shade of Magic is an excellent, imaginative piece of work, and will deservedly find favour with readers and writers alike, and probably make it onto several shortlists of fine fantasy fiction. Well worth seeking out, and highly recommended.