The Year of the Fantasy Cliche: A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

Source: GoodReads

YA fantasy is probably one of the fastest growing areas in the market these days.  Much like YA paranormal, and YA dystopia, fantasy has fallen prey to YA cliches. Most of them read like the below gift.

And The Darker Shade of Magic unfortunately shares many attributes that fall into cliche.

The premises of A Darker Shade of Magic seems fairly fresh.  Multiple Londons, a world traveler, a Blackadder-ish Prince George the III-aptly named Rhys, and a lady pirate.  How can this book not be fresh in original.

Well, it just is.  Let’s dissect the tropes shall we.

1) Our Main Character is Special:

Kell is one of the last of his kind.  And yes, I know, that name.  I kept thinking he was a Super Food throughout most of the reading experience too.  You just sort of have to go with it.

At least he’s not a long lost prince.  Most YA characters are-long lost princes and princess.  Oh, wait he is a prince.  Not by blood, but still an honorary one so I’m putting a big check mark there.

2) The Lady Pirate is Really a TSTL YA Character

Lila annoyed me.

Just saying it.

Yes, there are some scenes where she’s awesome.  But she’s really a hinderance more than anything.  I’m going to give Schwab some credit though since the series-yes, another series-has just started.  Sometimes tropes have to be used to set the mode.  However, it gets annoying.  Especially when the tropes cause the character to act like an idiot.

Like Lila.

To be fair, I didn’t outright hate her.  I think one of the reasons is because there’s potential there.  She just comes out to be more of a caricature than a character at this point.

And she does some really dumb things.

3) The Whole World Is About to Come Apart

Seriously, why must the world be falling apart in these fantasies, or there’s political unrest?  Can’t the fantasy society ever be okay?

The answer is no.  I guess this goes into the territory, of always having a long lost royal in the starring role.  But I can’t help but wonder if any YA fantasy can be non-political.  To be fair, the political unrest going on in this book doesn’t go on in Super Food’s world.  Rather, another world.  But it sort of spills over so there’s that…

4)  Nothing Really Happens In These Books Till the Very End.

Seriously.  All these books have nothing happening in them till the very end.  A Darker Shade of Magic actually doesn’t fall prey to this trope.  It is action pack.  The pacing was in fact it’s strongest attribute.  I did not get bored with this book.

However, even though it avoided this trope there was the notorious holding out information for a sequel cliche used.

God, I hate the sequel cliche.  It’s so pointless.  I get that sequel = $ but some books just don’t need sequels.

I am, however, interested in seeing what sort of sequel that this book could give me.

5) The World Building Is Vague at Best

A Darker Shade of Magic has vague world building, but (and this is a big but) it’s more concise than most of these fantasies I’ve read.  I did think a strong skeletal structure was there, but it needed more fleshing out.

I know…sequels.

Overall, I would recommend this one with some reservations.  I’m hoping this series gets better with time, but I’m going to give it a solid B for now.  Annoying lady pirates and all.


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