What if mad King George III belonged to a London that was one of many Londons? And, what if each of these so-called Londons were all connected, alive and humming with blood magic? V.E. Schwab’s most recent novel, A Darker Shade of Magic (2015), examines the intricate fantasies of medieval low-life and casts magic in the quiet, shadowy spaces of the city.
“For those of us who dream of strange worlds”, her opening epitaph reads, conjuring up sweet apparitions outside our own. From here on, she takes bold, whimsical leaps into parallel “London” cities, populated with ansari blood magicians, romantic thieves and crazed monarchies. It might sound too whimsical, but Schwab manages to create a whole world that somehow feel strangely real and authentic, dangerous and secretive, all at once.
There are three different versions London in Schwab’s novel, each one with little resemblance to the other. The first is a dank, human “Grey London”, the second an affluent and imperial “Red London” and the third, “White London”, is sinister, starving and rampant with cannibalistic power. Each London can be passed through by the blood of an ansari wound and each one has its own dangers. V.E. Schwab’s flamboyant characters, two black-eyed ansari magicians, a young prince and a heroic cross-dressing thief, move through these cities, seeking a piece of black magic that could destroy or save the foundation of their world.
Indeed, V.E. Schwab is not afraid of the dark in her writing and her novel is bloodied with violent encounters and bone-cracking evils. Strengthening this style of fantasy writing, she draws us into the very real mortality behind her tale. But don’t be fooled, Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is still an easy and often enjoyable read. From its opening pages, Schwab presents us with a story that knows exactly where it’s going to go. Her characters are immediately human and relatable and her cities are described with such vivid imagery, one can smell and touch the magic off its pages.
With the ever-escalating interest surrounding fantasy fiction, V.E. Scwhab rightfully earns her place among some of the better written titles today. Moving between two pseudonyms, Victoria Schwab and V.E Schwab, she delineates her writing’s from children’s to adult fantasy and carefully situates A Darker Shade of Magic into a decidedly more mature circle of readers. Her novel isn’t naively put nor is it too serious; instead it strikes somewhere in the middle, resulting in a gripping, fast-paced and delightfully blood-spattering read.