Parallel universes are categorically THE BEST, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen them done quite like they are here in A Darker Shade of Magic, the first book in Victoria Schwab’s* Shades of Magic series, which just published its third and final book last week.
*She writes YA under her real name, and adult fiction under her pseudonym V.E. Schwab.
I’m late to the party, especially given how much I love fantasy and parallel universes, but I don’t really care because I now own all three books and I DON’T HAVE TO WAIT TO READ THEM (though I probably will, just a little).
So like I said, parallel universes. Only here, there are only four, and specifically, four Londons. Our two main characters are Kell, a magician who can travel between the Londons (which he dubs Grey, Red, White and Black), and Delilah Bard, a thief from Grey London. Grey London is basically our world, a world that has forgotten magic. Red London, Kell’s home, is full of magic, and it’s thriving. White London is dying, starving from lack of magic. And nobody knows what’s going on in Black London, because it was consumed by magic hundreds of years before, and the other Londons sealed it away. From there, the stage is set for madcap, universe-crossing adventuring.
I wanted to love this book immediately, but it actually took me about eighty pages or so, until SPOILERS Kell and Lila finally crossed paths and the plot was set into motion END SPOILERS. But as soon as that happened, it was hard to put down. Schwab writes with a simple prose that is very much in the moment. Kell, Lila, and the plot barrel through these pages with the speed of a freight train, hardly getting any time to breathe. This isn’t helped by the structure, which consists of a series of very short chapters, which you can’t help but finish and say, okay, just one more . . . and then before you know it you’ve read sixty pages and you’re late getting back from your lunch break.
My only real complaint, besides the slow start, is that I wanted more. More worldbuilding. More quiet moments. More banter. More time with the characters. Obviously there are two more books, so I’m getting my wish in that respect, but it is a lightning-paced book, and you get to know the characters on the fly. The whole book takes place over the course of a couple of days, and it’s almost jarring how much stuff is crammed up in there.
This for sure passed my first book test, and I’m glad because I already spent money on the second two books, and, boy, would that have been embarrassing. No idea where the second two books are going, though. This one wraps up pretty well. I know nothing about what’s coming, except that the the third book is almost twice the size of this one. It’s over there sitting all fat and smug on my shelf right now, and it’s taunting me. Some day soon, book. Someday soon.