Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Guest review: New fantasy from V. E. Schwab!

10-12 Book Club: You loved Vicious, and now there's a new series starting by author V. E. Schwab! Here's a review by fantasy maven and reference librarian Daryl Maxwell

What if there were multiple Londons? Four vastly different but parallel cities existing simultaneously in the same location? A Grey London, dark and dirty, ruled by a mad king and almost completely devoid of magic; a Red London, bright and beautiful, where a benevolent monarchy rules over a flourishing, magic-infused empire; a White London, where the throne is attained through treachery and dominance, and the populace struggles to control a form of magic that is as rebellious and untrustworthy as they are; and a Black London, source of the most powerful--and unpredictable--magic, lost to the other Londons for generations.

Kell is an Antari, a traveller. He is one of the few with the ability to travel between the Londons. Officially, Kell delivers the monthly communications between the different aristocracies. Unofficially, Kell also smuggles small items between worlds for the fascinated few who will pay handsomely for a glimpse into a world they will never see. It’s one of those unofficial tasks that has stranded Kell in Grey London and left him at the mercy of a pickpocket named Lila Bard. Lila has stolen from him, saved his life, and now demands to be taken to one of the other Londons. She’s looking for adventure, while Kell just wants to go home. But what neither of them knows is that the events that brought them together have put all of the Londons in terrible danger.

In A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab, author of last year’s marvelous Vicious, spins a tale of (not two but) four cities, and the man who can travel between them. Schwab creates a set of distinct and interesting Londons, populated by wonderfully drawn, recognizable, believable, and likable characters. I particularly liked Lila Bard: It is rare in SF/F books to find such a strong and well-defined female character, with strength, will, a sharp tongue, and a wicked sense of humor, but also vulnerability and empathy. Lila is clearly the equal of the book’s other protagonist Kell. But while Lila and Kell are equals, they are also opposites in many ways: female/male, thief/royal, magic/non-magic. They are almost opposing mirror images of each other, but they both ultimately long for the same thing: freedom. The result is a pair who will appeal to readers regardless of their age, gender or background.

Beyond all that, A Darker Shade of Magic is just an awful lot of fun! While the threats to the Londons are clear and evident, Schwab is able to keep the book an exciting and enjoyable swashbuckling adventure. Like Vicious before it, A Darker Shade of Magic would make a fabulous film (if Schwab’s work was translated intact in the production process). A Darker Shade of Magic is a wonderful read, and it's impossible not to wonder where V.E. Schwab will take her readers next!

Editor's note: Anarda and I enjoyed this book too! Since this isn't a stand-alone, we know that one place she will take us is back to the Londons with Kell and Lila! It will be hard to wait…

Also, read an interview with Victoria Schwab that Daryl did for the main library blog!

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