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Kell is one of two Antari, a magician who can travel to parallel worlds. He is the adopted Prince of the royals of Red London, a city where magic is respected and flourishes. He officially acts as courier by taking monthly messages to the rulers of the other Londons. These other London's include Grey London, boring and without magic, which is ruled by mad King George III and White London, a place where magic is to be controlled and is draining the city and people, which is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the top. There used to be a place called Black London, but no one speaks of it anymore. Unofficially, he smuggles goods to the highest bidder desperate enough to see a piece of a world they will never be able to visit - a potentially treasonous act. It's not a matter of if he gets caught, but when. When he does get caught and runs to Grey London, he crosses paths with Lila Bard, a thief with dreams of freedom, who robs him, saves him from an enemy, and then forces him to another world for a real adventure.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is an imaginative and addictive read with brilliant characters, fantastic world-building, and a great magic system. Yes, it does start a little slow, but that allows the author to really delve into the world and characters she's created. Usually, a move like this doesn't work for me, but in this particular case it's handled fantastically, since we get such a good look at Kell, the Maresh royal family, and the City(s). Once the story and plot take off, it never lets up and keeps the reader intrigued and fully engaged in Schwab's lyrical prose.
The cast of characters are completely unforgettable and easy relate with and like. Kell is great as the main character, but Lila completely steals the show. The two of them together (not in a romantic way, thankfully) are a force to be reckoned with. Their dialog is electric, to say the least. In terms of Rhy, the Prince, I really wanted him to get more page-time. Regardless, his connection with Kell is great even if they are polar opposites. I can't leave out Holland, the other Antari. He's the main antagonist, but he's still incredibly interesting to see the differences between him, Kell, and their worlds.
Overall, this story is absolutely beautiful and I highly recommend it for fans of fantasy and sci-fi. A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab definitely makes the Best of 2015 list! I can't wait for A Gathering of Shadows to be released on February 23, 2016 - I don't know if I can stand to wait that long!
I read this novel from April 17 - 22, 2015 and my review is also on Goodreads.