let’s review: a darker shade of magic

A Darker Shade final for Irene(warning: this review contains spoilers. Read the spoiler-free version here).

I’m surprised this book was shelved under the adult science fiction/fantasy section–everything about this novel reads as a teen book. Young protagonists, slightly less sophisticated writing (no offense), and lots of other teen/YA novels include a supernatural element without being singled out as SciFi/Fantasy. So I’m curious as to this publishing decision. I will give points for the cover and the concept: Grey/Red/White/Black Londons with doors between them that only magical Antari can enter, Kell of Red London being one of these few, marked by one black eye to signify his gift. Kell delivers messages between the royalty of the Londons, often smuggling tokens and talismans along the way, despite its danger. Kell is set up to fall into a tempting trap that delivers him a forbidden token from deserted Black London (of which no one speaks of), and in his attempt to flee, crosses path with Lila Bard, a pickpocketer and wannabe pirate who becomes Kell’s companion to the other Londons in order to return the dark magic to its rightful place. But other powers are at work between the worlds, and threaten to overthrow the balanced system that keeps all Londons intact.

At first, the writing in A Darker Shade of Magic felt a bit forced or over explained. Gradually, the writing got better and the story more interesting. I’m a sucker for stories with alternate worlds, (especially Londons). The setting was fitting for this story, involving thrones and crowns and power struggles and gritty taverns and masquerades–all with a touch of magic. I was hoping to learn more about Kell’s origins, as well as the truth behind Black London, but perhaps that’s being saved for later in the series. I will say, the ending felt rather anticlimactic–one of those tricky problems with a story involving magic–the solution is also magic (“Oh hey, we don’t actually have to do all this stuff!”) I was disappointed that after everything, they didn’t even need to go to Black London after all. I might be curious enough to read the next installments, but overall this book was not overly enticing as a set-up for a series. At times, I liked the ideas of the story a bit more than their execution. The sense of adventure and atmosphere present in A Darker Shade of Magic show promise, which is perhaps why I wanted a bit more.

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