Summary: A fantasy multi-verse where four worlds are connected via the city of London, and a dark magic wants to destroy them all.
I have not enjoy a good fantasy book in a while. I picked up the audiobook of A Darker Shade of Magic up when it initially came out in early 2015. (It was free as a promotion.) And six months ago or so I picked up the kindle edition when it was on sale. And I finally got around to reading it last week.
The premise of A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four Londons. All called London and with several places that are the same regardless of their world. The worlds are nicknamed Black London, White London, Red London and Grey London. Black London was destroyed by dark magic, White London uses magic as a powerful weapon against one another and is a cruel world. Red London uses magic as a tool and is a prosperous place (but is shielded from Black London by White London). And Gray London is a 19th century non-magical London that we would recognize historically.
It used to be that it was easy to move between Londons through doors. But the doors were closed to protect the three remaining worlds from the dark magic of Black London. Now only two magicians have the power to moved between world through their blood magic. One is from White London and one is the main character, Kell, from Red London.
Kell has grown up in the royal family of Red London, and while he has been treated well, his lack of knowledge about his origin has led him to resent his adopted family and his role. And so he smuggled items and ideas and magic from one world to another as he is carrying out his role of emissary. It is in one of these smuggling trips that he accidentally transports an item from Black London and one that may destroy all of the Londons.
He picks up another orphan woman from Gray London (who has her own back story to be revealed) and they attempt to return the item back to Black London before it destroys them and their worlds.
A Darker Shade of Magic has the feel of a riff off of the Lord of the Rings. It is a very different style of writing. This is a somewhat dark historical fantasy, but it still has a bit of young adult feel with it. (The author has written a number of young adult or middle grade novels.) I liked the two main characters, but they were not overly developed and the plot was a pretty straight fight against the bad guys quest fantasy novel. There is some moral quandaries about if and how dark magic can be used to save others and/or destroy dark magic. But they exploration of them is too simple, at least in this first book.
I enjoyed it and I was engaged, but I am not going to run out and pick up the second book quickly. The third book and final book of the trilogy will be released in February.