Coups de coeur !·Littérature Anglophone

A Darker Shade of Magic 1 by Victoria Schwab (review in english).

« Pirates, thieves and sadist kings » That »s how Victoria Schwab presented her new fantasy book. I was just finishing reading The Unbound by the same author and I didn’t wait to buy this one. I’m not really into reading the back cover of a book, but I do follow the author on twitter and so, I had read some excerpts of the books, or at least, some dialogues. It made me so curious. She also referred to London being a part of the book, and that motivated me even more. The cover was illustrated by Will Staehle and he did an amazing job! I love Kell and his little coat. I love this author’s obsession for coats.

Kell is an Antari, a blood magician, one of the last remains of the past situation. Kell lives in Red London, one of the four dimensions and the most powerful at the moment. He is the ambassador of the Royal Family and he delivers letters between the different Crowns in each dimension. Magic consumed Black London 200 years ago and since then, everything has changed. The doors between the dimension are closed and only the Antari, who are only -supposedly- two- have access to them (can create them). Since then, White London has become a bad and a dangerous place, consumed by violence, desire of power and magic. And Grey London has forgotten about magic and the other dimensions. But the thing is, Kell is not only an ambassador, he is also a smuggler and one day, confused for some reason, he accept a delivery but the truth isn’t entirely confessed to him. He finds himself in the possession of a Black London’s relic. troubles come to find him when Lila Bard, a wanted thieve, stole it from him. Both their lives change.

From the beginning, I knew the book was everything I wanted it to be : different, complex, something I’ve never read about before. We firstly discover Kell as a narrator. I liked how he didn’t fit in. It makes him suffer, of course, but his difference, the fact that he is feared because of his skills it isolated him and so, he becomes more endearing. I was really intrigued by him. He seems to know the secrets of each dimension and yet he isn’t really comfortable nor does he he feel safe wandering through them. Also, I liked the fact that he wasn’t a innocent-heroic figure. He has done some bad things that makes him guilty and we discover it through the book. It makes him become a type of characters that I love: not perfect. He is not necessarily confident, and he surely doesn’t trust anyone. The Royal family refers to him as their child, but he knows better and think of himself as « their possession ». He doesn’t really care. Kell lives for the ones he loves, and it includes Rhy Maresh, the future King of Red London, a charming handsome young man. He is the one to whom Kell’s loyalty goes to.

We then meet Delilah, commonly nicknamed Lila, as a narrator. She is a thief. But she is the female best character you ever met. She robs to survive in Grey London, which could be associated to Whitechapel in the 19th century. The author settles her story in 1819 and we can see it. Women rights do not exist, and that’s why Lila has already killed to survive. Her tongue is as much sharped as her knifes; and her pistol works pretty well too. She lives for the adventure and no one will make decision about her life on her behalf. She dreams of the world and she aspires to become a pirate, which considering the sequel, she might actually really become. If every female character were as strong, determined as her or Katniss, believe me we would have some women ruling this world and no one would dare to contest our rights. Lila Bard, which is an amazing name by the way, is the heroine we all have within us.

Lila et Kell are the main characters, but the others remain really important and fascinating. Struggling against them, stands Holland, the only other Antari (to Kell’s knowledge, so it under some hesitation) who lives. I immediately loved him. He has a great charisma, he is kind of mysterious, a bit charming to (his visits to Rhy humhum). However, going on in the story, we discover a darker part of his story. He belongs to the White London Royal Family, and the Dane Twins who rule this kingdom magically bound him to them, a binding which only death can destroys. I can’t wait to read more about him in the sequel.

At first, I wasn’t a fan of villains. Growing up I learnt to overcome their status in order to see and understand how they were thought and created by their author, and that fascinated me. Now I cross the path of Schwab’s villains, and this is a different level. The Dane Twins have gained their ruling places by blood and thanks to magic. Around them, a real blood/magic cult is organized. Athos can come towards you and say « cut your throat, I’m bored » or that level of sadism. And his sister, Astrid

“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea. »

After that little declarations of love, I think you will easily understand why I loved hating these characters. There are passages in the book that were terribly intense and involving so much blood, so much suffering. They don’t care about human beings, all that matters is power. Power by owning magic. It makes me wonder if reading Vicious, a novel of Schwab about villains, won’t make me having nightmares.

Reading my blog, you know a book is everything to me if I love the characters. The author couldn’t have done better here. They are all fascinating, determined, adventurous, charming and charismatic. I loved that each of them had one really defined personality, hidden secrets and a dark face. I terribly fell in love with Rhy and most of all Lila. She is my idol.

I think you got the fact that I loved the characters of this book. But I also love the complexity of this world. The worldbuilding seems so completed, we could actually think a world like this exists. I have seen how much of editing the author has done on this book, but gosh, it was worth every word because I just escaped to this word for a couple of hour and I loved it so badly. I loved the fact that we can still find a fixed point in the tavern, that we can find it in each dimension, a place of illegal activities and yet, a place that feels like home or family.

What fascinated me the most is the vision of the magic that the author describes. She didn’t use the traditional myths & legends, she created her own rules. Magic in the novel is unique, frightening, vibrating… Alive. Magic is alive and it has its own will, it is ambitious and it craves for strength… I think that Kell is the best to talk about that:

“But the thing about magic,” added Kell, “is that it preys on the strong-minded and the weak-willed, and one of the worlds couldn’t stop itself. The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls.”

Magic is the true ruler of this word, she feds on people’s obsession for it, even though every dimension has a different approach towards it. It creates a breathless atmosphere, everything is intense and the air seems to be vibrating around you. It feels like blinking or turning back might get you killed, you become a prey. It creates a tension that serves the narrative. Kell is our mirror to understand how magic works. By reading him using it, we can understand the rules and that what I loved. His skills, the remaining pattern of the doors in Schwab’s writing (The Archived, in which doors are kind of the keys of… everything).

I was worried about the plot, in the beginning I was afraid that the fact that Holland would show up every now and then might get repetitive… But the plot has so much levels that it creates a complex mess which avoids predictability. When we think something is resolved, something else comes up. It is also kind of addictive.

What I really enjoyed was that the end, even if it has no cliff-hanger, creates an interest for the reader to read the sequel by letting things unspoken : Rhy and Holland, Lila becoming a pirate and Kell who will, I’m certain, find another crazy adventure/trouble. I want to explore this world again and again!

To conlude, I would add that the writing-style is still so much addictive, poetic with something transcendent and magnetic that I adore. Thanks Victoria for these few hours of escape, for these fascinating characters. I will have to reread it, at Christmas time, being surrounded by magic; but I must say that I’ve found THE discovery of the year and I’m so glad of it. I don’t know how I’m going to be able to wait until 2016 for the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, which already has a gorgeous cover.

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