When you enter one London—because in Victoria Schwab’s series A Darker Shade of Magic there are four—you can immediately feel the differences from the others. Grey London is like the real London, with well known landmarks and no traces of magic; Red London is beautiful and lush with magic; White London is hard and cold, it’s hold on magic a constant struggle; and Black London is just that—burnt and in ruins, a myth to most and a memory to some.
Readers are set on an adventure with Kell, an Antari whose job it is to travel between the Londons to communicate with the different rulers, when he is given a token of Black London. A token that should not exist.
But Kell is not the only hero in this story. Although Delilah Bard, a cutpurse with dreams of being a pirate on the open seas, is not a conventional hero, she is the only person who seems to be able to help Kell—whether he wants her help or not. Together the two face numerous challenges and villains, including Holland, the only other Antari that exists, and the Dane twins who rule White London.
Schwab takes several chapters to build up the plot, letting readers first get to know Kell and his world and the different Londons. But not too much information is provided at once. She drops hints of events that have happened or characters who are important to the plot like bread crumbs. All these hints help to lead to the main event, and although the outcome can be gleaned from these bread crumbs, Schwab crafts a story that will still leave readers breathless.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the first in a trilogy and the second adult fiction book written by Schwab. Although the pacing is similar to a young adult novel, the story’s gruesome and random murders, as well as its suggestive dialogue, move it up a peg to adult status.