A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab (#1 in the Shades of Magic series) (Titan Books, 27 February 2015)
Okay, so I was hoping to love this, but I only ended up liking it. I liked it a lot! But it just wasn't quite as awesome as I was expecting. I have to say, I went into this with really high expectations. As I'm sure most of you know, this is pretty much one of the most-hyped books of the year. So perhaps if my expectations had been lower, I would have loved this more.
There are four Londons. Grey London, without magic. Red London, thriving, powerful, full of magic. White London, weakening and starved, hungry for magic and power. Black London, sealed off from the rest, destroyed. Kell is an adopted Prince of Red London and an Antari, one of the very few people remaining who can travel between Londons, who have magic in their blood. When Kell accidentally finds himself in possession of a powerful artefact from Black London, he is hunted by dangerous enemies who would stop at nothing to get the artefact from him. That's when he runs into Delilah Bard, a lonely thief living in Grey London who dreams of adventure and becoming a pirate. Lila ends up tagging along with Kell for the adventure, and the two of them must work together to get rid of the artefact before it falls into the wrong hands.
This book just didn't really hold my attention for some reason. I would pick it up, read a little bit of it, and put it down again. It took me almost two weeks to finish reading it. It just wasn't compelling enough. I don't know whether I was just in the wrong mood though, since I have been rather slow at reading in general lately. I just never felt excited by the book.
I found the idea of the different Londons very interesting, but as this is the first book of a series, and relatively short for a fantasy novel, I think all the Londons suffer to varying degrees from underdevelopment. I really could have done with more detailed worldbuilding. I am excited to find out more in the next book(s) though!
I really wanted the villains in this book to get more development, especially – they were superficially interesting, a pair of sadist siblings ruling White London together, with an Antari working for them, but I didn't know enough about any of them. I think the book could have been a lot more chilling (and thrilling) if I knew more about their motivations, their pasts, their feelings about each other.
Lila was my favourite character and she made the book for me. How ambitious and prickly and smart she is, and that brutal edge to her character; the way she's learned to survive on her own through thievery and violence – through killing, if she must. It helps that I recently became obsessed with Black Sails, a STARZ historical drama about pirates, and Anne Bonny (a real historical female pirate!) as portrayed by Clara Paget on that show is pretty much exactly what I imagine Lila to be like, both sort of appearance-wise and personality-wise, down to the way they speak and the way they carry themselves. And I LOVED Anne Bonny in Black Sails, so it was awesome.
I loved the relationship between her and Kell as well; it's a wonderful friendship that blooms so fast and so bright, and the (rather grudging, at least on Lila's part) affection between the two is just so delightful to read about. I don't quite ship them romantically just yet, but I'd be happy to see where the next book takes them. I also loved the relationship between Kell and Rhy too; Rhy is openly bi/pan in the book, and I can totally see where the Kell/Rhy shippers are coming from. The two of them have a deep bond and awesomely witty conversations together, and Kell's clearly willing to go to the ends of the earth for Rhy. I think the book could have done with a lot more Rhy and interactions between Kell and Rhy in the beginning to create even more emotional impact later on.
All in all, a good book with some fascinating characters, but just lacking the captivating oomph that I'd hoped for. I'm definitely looking forward to the next book!