by Bea Feichtenbiner ’18
V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect escape from the everyday.
Characters make a conflict. Conflict makes a plot. Plot makes a story. Throw in a few sensory details and lines of dialogue, and V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic appears. The story protagonist, Kell, was born with magic in his blood, making him one of an increasingly rare species called Antari. While ferrying letters between worlds, he dallies in the smuggling of illegal artifacts from the Londons. There is Gray London, the dreary city with little magic; Red London, Kell’s home, a vibrant, magic filled city; White London, a harsh city where magic will control you if you do not dominate it; and Black London, the city destroyed by magic centuries ago. When trouble befalls Kell in Red London, he escapes into Gray London. There he meets Lila, a spitfire with a burning curiosity so strong it threatens to unravel life as the characters know it.
Every book needs good characters to come to life. A Darker Shade of Magic gives each character a new depth with each turn of the page. Kell feels alone even when surrounded by his adopted family, the royalty of Red London. With Lila’s tough luck attitude, she refuses to give up until she gets what she wants – even if it seems to be impossible. Kell’s adopted brother, the young prince Rhy, is the kind of vulnerable you don’t often see in books. Kell’s power balances Rhy’s weakness and Rhy’s charm balances Kell’s aloofness. Even the villains are incredibly well worked. The other Antari, Holland, is as black as his eye, even though he comes from the city of the opposite name, White London. But he is only a puppet to the real masters running the show – Athos and Astrid, the terrifyingly perfect villains. Everyone loves a good villain, and Schwab gave us two.
Now, what is a story without a conflict? A little black stone seems like a good place to start. The title perfectly encompasses the never ending tale. Black London seems like a sinister place, supported completely by Schwab’s little hints thrown in about the history of the place. The story starts slow, giving us just a taste of Kell and Lila’s worlds. It gradually escalates into a full blown chase and escape. But the story does not end there. We have not even reached the climax. Plans fall into place, Lila realizes there might be more to life than survival, and Kell tests his boundaries – and his magic. The symbolic blood sacrifice leads to an even bigger picture, and the story falls into its resolution. The promise of a sequel is evident in the obvious continued tension.
A Darker Shade of Magic is written for teenagers struggling with their identity and their future, and the characters are easily identified. It may be cliché, but it is still full of the same excitement that I had reading my last fifty favorite books. Everyone has a day where they need to escape into another world, another brain, and live another life. One that has a touch and go relationship with connection. V.E. Schwab wrote a fantasy book about magic, but the most fantastic thing is the magic that begs you to read, read, and reread.