A Darker Shade of Magic is the series opener for the Shades of Magic trilogy. I was recommended this series years ago due to its setting in multiple different alternate Londons. I do love fantasy novels and London, so it’s been sitting on my to-read list for awhile.
I was slightly disappointed that none of the three Londons resemble the London that I visited closely, with the exception of the magicless Grey London, where we don’t spend much time in the familiar parts of the city. This disappointment was quelled by the other Londons being interesting in their own right. Red London is a typical fairytale city with just, beloved rulers who have a complicated family life and magic being as common as water. White London is a cruel land where magic is a dark art used by the power hungry to beat everyone below the strong into submission. There’s also a Black London, a forbidden place ravaged by out of control magic that looms in the background, but isn’t visited in the majority of the book, though I suspect that it will feature heavily in later series.
The characters are fine, but they’re also common in fantasy tropes. Our hero is a rare breed of human who can use more magic than anyone else and has the ability to easily travel between worlds. He struggles with the loneliness that comes with being one of the last of his kind. He’s joined by a street urchin who longs to be a pirate and who is teased to have hidden power of her own. They aren’t bad characters, but they aren’t characters I haven’t seen many times before.
The plot progresses in a predictable manner, the war torn White London is in tension with the peaceful Red London, supposed allies double cross the heroes, the good prince is put into mortal danger. I do like a traditional good-vs-evil story, but this one plays too closely to the rules plot wise without giving me the characters that either ooze goodness to the point you can’t help but love them (like basically the entire Fellowship of the Ring.) or the moral struggle that leads to empathy (like the relatable Edmund from the Chronicles of Narnia.). There are some shades of gray to some of the characters, particularly with Lilah (the Oliver Twist-like orphan), but I didn’t find the shades of gray to add the interest I was hoping for.
Note: I use the star system recommended by Goodreads- 3 is a book that I liked, but not loved. 4 is a book that I enjoyed very much, and quite possibly loved. 5 is “This is my new favorite book, and one of the best books I’ve ever read”. I might finish the Shades of Magic series at some point, but I’m not in a rush to do so. I have more original things on my to-read list that I’ll be reading first.
I listened to the audiobook version on Hoopla narrated by Steven Crossley. As with many narrations on Hoopla, it was a very well done production with a fantastic narrator.