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Review | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

So. Deep breaths all around, shall we? As D.H. Lawrence said (in my favorite line from the book that taught me about the birds and the bees), "We've got to live, no matter how many skies have fallen." And so this is my attempt at moving on, at living in the wake of a certain series that has been basically what I've lived and breathed for the last few weeks (barring the recently read and reviewed book we shall not speak of). Bear with me, if you will. I feel a bit fragile still. That said, are you tired yet of my old refrain of holding off on a series because I'm wary of the hugely positive press it's getting? I hope not. Because I present you with my latest bit of folly. A Darker Shade of Magic represents my first foray with V.E. Schwab, and I would categorize it as something along the lines of uncontrollable love at first sight.
Kell wore a very peculiar coat.

It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.

The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.
Kell is one of the rarest of rare breeds. He is an Antari, a magician with one normal eye and one black eye, who can travel between the parallel worlds, from Grey London to Red London to White London. Though never to the forbidden Black London, where magic destroyed it all. Kell lives in Red London, where he serves at the pleasure of the King and Queen. He is even something of an adopted son to them, raised as he was alongside their son Prince Rhy. The two are close as brothers and get up to all manner of mischief together. Well, Rhy does. And Kell rabbits off after him trying to tame the prince's effulgent ways and teach him a little magic along the way. So that he will be a good king and ruler to the people of Red London. What no one but Rhy knows is that Kell breaks a few of his own rules now and then. Namely, he smuggles small items from one London to another as a form of self-entertainment and a way of fending off the loneliness. He does have one counterpart, the other Antari Holland. But Holland resides in the dreaded White London, where he is in painful servitude to the current ruthless rulers the Dane twins. But it's when Kell makes the unexpected acquaintance of one thief Delilah Bard that things really being to unravel. And when Lila finds her way from Grey London into magic-drenched Red London, she is bound and determined never to go back.

It is such a tale, you guys. Such a magnificent, charming, and desperate tale of one young magician's quest to balance who he is with what is expected of him and one young woman's drive to see (and do) everything before she dies. I fell in love with Kell on page one, with his magical red coat and his quiet intensity. And my soul was knit with Delilah Bard's the moment she came at Kell with a sword and demanded more from her life. A favorite early encounter:
She looked young, but sharp, bony in a starved-bird kind of way. The only roundness came from her eyes, both brown, but not quite the same shade. He opened his mouth, intending to start their conversation with a question, like, Will you untie me? or Where is the stone? but instead found himself saying, "One of your eyes is lighter than the other."

"And one of your eyes is black," she shot back. She sounded cautious, but not frightened. Or, if she was, she was very good at hiding it. "What are you?" she asked.

"A monster," said Kell hoarsely. "You'd better let me go."

The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. "Monsters don't faint in the presence of ladies."

"Ladies don't dress like men and pick pockets," retorted Kell.

Her smile only sharpened. "What are you really?"

"Tied to your bed," said Kell matter-of-factly.

"And?"

His brow furrowed. "And in trouble."
He isn't wrong. Kell and Lila, individually and collectively, find themselves up to their eyeballs in trouble before this tale is through. And it is all so perfectly paced, allowing the reader time enough with each character to take their measure and form (and occasionally confirm) a number of important suspicions as to who might be an ally and who might be a shadow bent on evil. I relished each jaunt into the three so hazardously different Londons, hugging my arms to my sides each time we journeyed into eerie White London, hoping we would make it back alive. V.E. Schwab knows how to structure an adventure, and this one ramps up to the most creepy and urgent of climaxes. My heart raced at every turn, and my brain tumbled ahead to sift through the consequences of certain choices that will undoubtedly play out in the sequel. A Darker Shade of Magic is fantasy of the highest order. I'm so thrilled to have discovered it and wish Kell and Lila (and Rhy) all the luck in their coming adventures. Not that they need it.

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Linkage
The Book Smugglers - "I, for one, loved every bloody second of A Darker Shade of Magic – and I cannot wait for more."
There Were Books Involved - "From its worldbuilding and characters, to its plot and pacing, A Darker Shade of Magic is complex and intense, but still balanced by aspects that had me grinning like a loon."

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