a bookclique pick by Jessica Flaxman
The few times I have been in London, I have felt a sense of magic in the air. Maybe it was due to the fact that my head is full of English folklore and my favorite stories belong to England – Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books, Susannah Clarke’s masterful Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, Phillip Pullman’s The Golden Compass, and of course, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter.
It was my love for London and English fairy tales caused me to pick up V. E. Schwab’s delightful A Darker Shade of Magic when I was at my favorite independent book store a couple of weeks ago. I was immediately drawn to the eye-catching red, white and black book design showing a person stepping from one world to another, his red cape flowing upwards behind him. And once I began reading, I couldn’t put the book down. I was spellbound.
A Darker Shade of Magic tells the story of four parallel Londons – Red, Grey, White, and Black. Magic is plentiful and life is good in Red London, home to Kell, who is one of the last Antari, or travelers with a special ability to move between the worlds connected by the city of London. Things are not so rosy in Grey London, home to Lila, an orphan and a thief who doesn’t hesitate to do whatever it takes to survive. Living in a London without much magic left, Lila dreams of adventure and of commanding her own pirate ship. All she needs is some luck and an ally.
Then there’s White London, a sparkling, cold place where power is held by two despotic twin regents, and Black London, a forbidden place that no one dares to visit or mention. At one point in time, these four worlds were open to ordinary travelers, but due to a terrible event in the past, now only the magical Antari can pass through the secret doors that connect the Londons.
Kell is an endearing character, one who tries to serve his royal family with the loyalty and contentedness of a well-paid employee – but he wants to be free to roam, much like Lila. The plot picks up pace when Kell’s secret collection of artifacts from the other Londons jeopardizes the safety and peace of Red London and brings him together with Lila. As one who loves nothing more than to wander up and down London’s storied streets, and to read England’s magical stories, this was the perfect great new book to add to my library. If you like books about scrappy young people, enchantments, and battles between good and evil, you will love A Darker Shade of Magic.