A Darker Shade of Magic
I really wanted to be knocked out by this book. I delayed buying it, held off on reading too many reviews and plot summaries, saw all the praise it was getting, got excited about it, held off for longer, and then finally bought a hardcover copy. I don’t know why I did all that. Perhaps I was worried it wouldn’t live up. Maybe I knew it WOULD live up, and I just wanted to wait for the exact right time to be WOWED by it. Well, I finally read it recently, and A Darker Shade of Magic is good. It’s very good. But it didn’t blow me away as much I’d hoped. And because of that, I learned something important. More on the later.

The novel takes place in London, during a medieval-ish time of castles, princes, kings and queens. Well, to be more accurate, it takes place across four different, seperate Londons--Red, White, Gray and Black. Each London possess a different level of magic, is ruled by a different group of royalty, and has its own class of society. The one trick is, very few people know about the four London’s and no one can travel between them. Except for two talented magicians, the last of the Travelers, who are named Kell and Holland. Kell is the hero of the story, a charming, handsome, mysterious magician who makes a nice albeit somewhat unconventional romantic lead. Holland, the other Traveler, is also powerful, charismatic, and unpredictable but in a more sinister way. Kell finds himself in trouble with Holland and a few other nasty evil-doers when he is tricked into transporting an illegal, powerful artifact between two of the Londons. And because of this danger, he meets our heroine, Delilah Bard. A beautiful thief from the streets who is smart, sharp, and highly skilled in her own ways. She proves herself ready for adventure, no matter what it costs her, as long as it gets her closer to her fantasy of fleeing her dreary gray version of London to see what more the world has to offer.

The set-up here is excellent. It’s in London, which I have a fondness for, because not too long ago we had the pleasure of living there for a couple years. And the story has magic, dangerous liaisons, cool characters, vicious bad guys; all the great things that make up a fine Young Adult novel. Which I realized, when I finished it, is exactly what it is.

It’s a fine YA novel, well-done and entertaining. But for me, it lacked an unexpected element to make it stand out. To raise it to something everyone could read and enjoy, not just those who like the genre.

You see, I am reading this certain category of books right now to keep up on what’s currently hot in the publishing market. And also to build a list of favorites which I can pass on to my bookworm daughter. This category is popular, critically acclaimed, magic and fantasy books, mostly aimed at high schoolers or readers in their twenties. Probably mostly females. And that’s just where A Darker Shade of Magic sits. As I mentioned above--the book stars a tough, gutsy, girls-want-to-be-her female lead in Delilah Bard, and a dreamy, talented, girls-want-to-date-him hero in Kell. The action is great, the story is very well-written, but it’s not very complex or challenging. Because that’s not the market it’s aimed for.

Sometimes these books sneak out and surprise me and I really dig them. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern is a good example of this. Richly written, subtle, poetic, with plenty of unique extras woven in to the main, outstanding plot line. In fact, I enjoyed it so much, I gave it to my wife for Christmas this past year and she is loving it too.

A Darker Shade of Magic is straight-forward fantasy and swashbuckling adventures, with a fair amount of blood (knife fights and such but nothing super, over-the-top gory) and some romance, but no graphic sex. It’s a fast moving, quick read, recommended mostly for the ladies, upper high school or above.

From what I've written, it may appear I'm largely negative on this one. I'm really not - I just think you have to dig the genre to get into it. Actually, I will most likely read the forthcoming sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. Because it will be cool to see where the story goes, and find out if Ms. Schwab has any twisty, sophisticated surprises in store for us. The second book is said to add pirates and grand ships to the multi-London magical adventures--which sounds awesome.

Interestingly, A Darker Shade of Magic is currently being adapted, by the author, for a 10-12 episode TV series. I don’t know when or where it will show up, but as I was writing this review the author has been promoting it on Twitter. That is great news. It's nice that the writer has received a TV deal AND that she gets to be heavily involved. Also, Kell and Delilah’s adventures will make for smashing television and I’ll for sure keep my eyes out for this.

In the meantime, if you like YA novels with magic, fantasy, and a spice of romance, then--

Happy Reading!