By Caroline Palermo, Staff Writer
I used to devour books in days. Unfortunately for my parents, this meant I would plead for them to take me to the nearest bookstore once a week — and there were only so many books I could sneak off my older brother’s shelf without his annoyance.
But there came a point where reading no longer excited me in the same way as it did when I read Percy Jackson or Harry Potter.
These characters felt as real as my own flesh and bones. I would dream of being a part of their magical worlds. The writing was so poignant and strong, its wording still lingers with me even now. But the knock of dystopian books (yes, Divergent) never held the same weight or integrity as the others.
So those late nights reading beneath the covers with my flashlight ceased to exist, as did my excitement for reading books altogether.
And then I found A Darker Shade of Magic.
V. E. Schwab’s novel follows a young Antari magician named Kell, one of the last of his kind with the rare gift to travel between the four parallel Londons — Red, Grey, White and Black. Each has a different history, ruler, society and relationship with magic. Kell serves the royal house in Red London as an ambassador who travels between the Londons delivering messages for the royals.
Unofficially, Kell smuggles magical items between the worlds for buyers desperate enough to see a glimpse of magic. And in a smuggling incident gone wrong, he flees to Grey London, where Delilah Bard, a quick-witted thief, finds him and blackmails him into taking her along on an adventure to return a sacred artifact.
A Darker Shade of Magic is one of the most creative novels to hit the Young Adult genre in years. The 2010s saw a surge in magical dystopian novels, with most being a seemingly copy-and-paste plot with updated names. Yet, whereas those books had a generally repetitive and dull concept, Schwab took her time to craft a tightly-woven narrative.
There is no second-guessing from where this book may have taken inspiration from or to what it reads similarly. Instead, it’s the first book to feel original in its concept — it cannot be mistaken for anything else.
The magic system she designs is thought out with great care, only elevated by her world building skills, featured in not one but four separate worlds. Schwab does not take shortcuts in her craft, and it shines in its most glorious scenes and shimmers softly in the quieter moments.
Every character is just as enticing as the last. Kell is a rich, complex character with layers that steadily unravel throughout the trilogy.
He loves his magical abilities but hates the responsibility that comes with being an Antari. He’s infamous in Red London for his status, but it leaves him with little privacy and freedom and a need for deeper connections.
His foil, Delilah, is just as three-dimensional as Kell: thief with too much time on her hands, no roots to tie her anywhere and selfish and unsympathetic to anyone in her wake. When they cross paths, their interactions are electrifying; furthermore, they push one another’s own arcs and development into higher levels.
Schwab refuses to rush her plot or characters. She takes her time crafting a multiplex world, characters, arcs and even her own syntax.
For the first time in years, it seems the YA genre has a new worthy addition to add to its collection.