Fantasy is a genre that relies on an author having an original idea, unparalleled imagination and the ability to create worlds that take us away from our own lives for the 5 hours or so that it takes to finish the book. V.E. Schwab succeeds with all that and more in the first book of her Shades of Magic Trilogy.
In this book. she introduces us to three different worlds, their only common thread being that in all these worlds there is always a city named London. The main character, Kell, is an antari – a group of people who are “blessed” with magic and whose blood enables them to travel through those worlds as long as they have a “token”, usually an object that belongs to that world.
Kell differentiates the three Londons by assigning colours to them: Red London, the city where magic is alive and thriving; Grey London, where no one believes that magic really exists; and White London, where magic used to exist but has long gone, leaving its people starving for just the taste of it (and starving for food as well, most likely). There was a fourth London where magic existed in its purest, strongest form, ultimately leading to that city’s destruction; Kell calls this city of legends Black London.
I am utterly enamoured of the concept of this book. It goes without saying that I will automatically love a book that’s set in London, but Ms Schwab takes it further by giving us three (for now) different version of this city. The world building in this book is amazing in its descriptiveness. I feel like its almost itching for a movie adaptation, and let’s be honest, that is the dream isn’t it? I, for one, would love to see Red London – with its castle floating on the river Thames itself, and a bustling and vibrant market on the banks – up on the big screen.
Apart from the world-building, this book also introduces the delightful, though sometimes annoying, Delilah Bard. Although Kell is meant to be the main protagonist of this book, Lila steals the show every time she appears. Unapologetically brash and driven by self-gratification and selfish purposes, she is the perfect foil to Kell’s strong sense of duty. A common thief originally from Grey London, she’s the kind of woman who marches to the beat of her own drum and doesn’t let society dictate her actions. She is determined to make her mark on the world, to have adventures and to see what else is out there. She refuses to be a victim of her own narrative: just because she was born poor doesn’t mean she’ll stay poor.
Lila is a character whose arc is sure to be explored in the next books and I’m quite excited to learn the secrets of her past, some of which are already hinted at in this book. As for Kell, I feel like his character wasn’t as well-developed as Lila’s. Either that or I haven’t really paid attention because he’s carved from the same mould as many other male protagonists in other fantasy series. VE Schwab is yet to add something to his character that will make readers stand up and take notice, but there is potential there.
The real winner in this book is the writing. It flows so seamlessly that you will find yourself turning page after page and not noticing that you’re halfway through the book. VE Schwab keeps its simple. This book doesn’t attempt to be literary or wordy, it embraces and celebrates the fact that its a fantasy novel. Ms Schwab simply tells the story in the best way she knows how and somehow it just works.
As the lead runner in this trilogy, this book picks up the baton with aplomb and sets the scene for passing it to the next book in the series. It takes readers through a delightful pub crawl-like romp through the worlds the author has created. It ends on a high note and with enough hints of what more there is to come to quickly send readers to the nearest bookstore to buy the next instalment, which is exactly what I will be doing today.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars