After I had my kid last year, I was kind of in a reading slump. A good 80% of my reading was being done only on my Kindle between the hours of 11pm-6am while feeding the little Jedi, and I was reading mostly Regency romance novels. There is nothing wrong with romance novels; it is simply a very uncharacteristic choice for me, a habitual reader of fantasy and sci-fi. In any case, I felt like I was missing something. I guess I was missing the way I used to read.
A Darker Shade of Magic was the book, and then the series, that released me from my slump. From the first chapters I knew it was going to be special, just as countless other bloggers and readers had told me.
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black. (Goodreads)
As an ambassador (and the adopted son) of the king of Red London, Kell is tasked with visiting both the brutal monarchs of White London (and their Antari Holland) as well as George III of Grey London. But he also runs an inter-world smuggling business on the side, and when a hand-off goes wrong he gets mixed up with Grey London street thief Lila Bard and a magical conspiracy that spans all four worlds.
This series has many strengths (world building and a neat magic system, an exciting and suspenseful plot), but to me its biggest asset is its characters. Kell and Lila are so well crafted they feel real, and the supporting cast has wonderful depth as well—particularly Holland, Kell’s brother Rhy, and the pirate Alucard.
Kell is probably my favorite character, and he reminded me strongly of another favorite character of mine: Edward Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist. Both Kell and Ed are completely dedicated to their brothers, willing to do anything to protect them. They both have serious personalities, their default expression generally being kinda frowny. They both do magic by drawing circles. And of course, they both have awesome red coats.
Lila is another fun one. Her dream in life is to have a ship and be a pirate, and she prefers wearing men’s clothes. I pictured her in my head looking a bit like Tilda from Into the Badlands because of her hair and knives, but her personality is really more like MK, impulsive and a bit immature.
I loved the pacing of the trilogy, because a lot of the plot structure remind me of the Star Wars original trilogy. Vitari and Osaron kind of reminded me of the first and second Death Stars. The Essen Tasch in the second book was like Lila’s version of Luke’s Dagobah training. And the cliffhanger ending of that same book, where Lila rushes off to help a captured friend, is straight out of The Empire Strikes Back. I loved that cliffhanger, which is such a weird thing to say when normally people hate them.
My only real complaints about the series are that I didn’t get a real “Regency” vibe from it, especially Lila who’s from our London but doesn’t use any thieves’ cant or anything, and also that perhaps the last bit of the third book was not quite as tight as the rest. But I felt satisfied with the ending. I’m already planning to buy the series so I can see those beautiful covers sitting on my shelf and relive the magic whenever I want.