A Darker Shade of Magic is based on a simple premise that is in fact unendingly complex: a world in which there are parallel Londons. In Grey London, ruled by a mad King George, magic is rare, almost unheard of; in Red London, magic is respected and idealized; and in White London, magic is something to be tightly controlled. Then there is Black London, sealed off from the rest of the world because of the dangerous magic it contains.
Only the Travelers can move between these Londons, and Kell is one of two remaining Travelers in the world. Though strictly forbidden by the laws of all Londons, Kell uses his ability to smuggle items among the cities--a trinket, a locket, a letter. Eventually, this practice catches up to him, leaving him on the run with Delilah (Lila) Bard, a cross-dressing thief who is determined to do whatever she must to escape the Grey London she's always known.
V.E. Schwab (Vicious) has combined just the right elements of fantasy in A Darker Shade of Magic to craft a novel that is as smart as it is adventurous. Her world-building is complete and thorough, with the magic of Kell's world subject to enough rules that it never feels like a plot crutch, and her characters are complex and multi-layered, making them as interesting to discover as the world they live in. With a story that ties up loose ends but leaves enough questions to tease a sequel, perhaps there will be a chance to know Kell and Lila even better in the future.
Review copy provided by the publisher.
A Darker Shade of Magic | V.E. Schwab | Tor | February 2015 | Hardcover