As a writer, I know story ideas are hard. So much of literature has already been covered by other writers, that it is hard to pave new arenas. Enter: A Darker Shade of Magic.
The concept of the novel is very fascinating: There are 4 worlds: Red, White, Grey, and Black, though Black is dead now. A magician named Kell is a powerful sorcerer capable of traversing these three worlds. Because of his unique ability, he likes to smuggle things between worlds, which creates the premise of this story when he accidentally smuggles more than he intended.
Right out the gate, the world building is excellent. The first few sections kept me hooked with how detailed the world was and how the operate like little separate machines.
The problem with this book is the characters. None of them really feel alive, and most of the time, their fortune seems rushed rather than based on character and plot considerations. The climax of the story has Kell basically rushing through the motions as if they author knew where she wanted to start, and sorta how she wanted to end, but had no idea or concern of the middle stuff. It took me a LONG time to read this, simply because it never found its rhythm until section 10 of 14. By then, I was finally engaged enough to keep pushing through, but the story always felt like it was in second gear.
Worst of all, the book takes very few risks in building a cogent universe. Kell and Lila basically lose very little throughout the story, and it gives them little motivation to act other than not to die. Also, Kell’s masters feel like cardboard cut-outs whereas his prince, Rhy, feels like a real character.
Overall, the book isn’t really bad. It has a lot of potential with world building, and I hope the inevitable sequel takes more risks. While I hate to compare books, I think someone like Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files, a series I feel like he thoroughly hates because of how much turmoil he puts Dresden under, would have done far better at making this book stick. In the end, nothing felt of much consequence despite the far-reaching story line built up.
Give it a read, but don’t expect to be wowed.
3/5 – Good but not great or groundbreaking. Don’t rush or break the bank to read this book.
I started this book before 2016, but since it all takes place inside of many London’s, it fits my “A Book on an Island” challenge.