A 2015 Goodreads Choice Award Nominee for Fantasy

Kell, one of the last Antari, travels between four different Londons, mostly at the service of his own King. Each London has it’s own history and society, and it’s own grasp of magic. Kell thinks of them by color – Grey London (ours) with its literal grey complexion and lack of magic; Red London (Kell’s home) is a warm place, smells like flowers, and is rich with magic; White London is cold and empty, where magic has become an additive obsession; and Black London, thought dead by most. He wears a coat with more than two sides that he can turn inside out over and over again to find appropriate dress for the London he’s visiting while illegally collecting trinkets to sell to those who want a taste of another world.

The premise of A Darker Shade of Magic really captures my imagination, and the playful, clever cover art only enhanced my initial excitement for the book. I may have set my hopes too high, because unfortunately, the subsequent plot is underwhelming at best. At the start of every chapter I find myself wishing for the novel to really develop, but it never quite takes form. The plot doesn’t quite take off until about a quarter of the through, with the introduction of Delilah Bard, the Grey London pickpocket street urchin, but even after it does, the story fails to live up.

Although Delilah (Lila) is the standard-fare archetype of plucky street urchin, she is my favorite part of the story. Kell is angsty and brooding, angry that he is taken advantage of for his abilities and about his lack of friends. Holland, the other Antari from White London, is actually enslaved by his royal family, so he can’t help being compulsively evil. The resulting Kell-Holland antagonism is expectedly dull as Kell seeks to destroy the magic rock he accidentally carried with him across worlds. The McGuffin rock has a twin and (surprise!) Holland has it.

This ideas that inspired this novel are top notch. As it turns out, the best parts of the books are already featured on the dust jacket. Recommended for YA fans of parallel worlds who’ll enjoy a spunky cross-dressing heroine.

“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”