V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic

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A Darker Shade of Magic Summary

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A Darker Shade of Magic is a 2015 fantasy novel by V.E. Schwab. Set in eighteenth-century London during the reign of King George III, it follows a magician named Kell who can travel between four parallel worlds called Red, Grey, White, and Black London. Making a living as a smuggler of relics between worlds for wealthy non-magical people, Kell inadvertently runs into an intrepid and entrepreneurial thief named Delilah Bard. Their prerogatives are changed when an evil force threatens all the versions of London, and they join forces to save their home.

The novel begins with a flashback to Kell’s childhood. In childhood, he discovered he was one of an extremely rare race of magical humans called the Antari, who are able to conjure portals that enable travel between parallel worlds. Since then, he has learned that there are three Londons he can access: Gray London, the ordinary human world; Red London, a utopian magical world where he was born and raised; and White London, a tumultuous world threatened by black magic. He is aware of a fourth world, Black London, which was apparently destroyed by black magic some time ago. Kell carries the signature mark of his powers in his eyes: one of his irises is black, the other blue. He spends much of his time in a tavern that is the only place shared by all three accessible worlds, going under different names.

The following section provides historical and political context on the conditions of and relationships between the different Londons. In Gray London, the tavern is called Stone’s Throw and serves as a marketplace where people flock to barter with Kell for artifacts from the other worlds. He is famous both for his magic and because he is an adopted prince of Red London, where he has a royal brother named Rhy. Meanwhile, White London possesses the sole other Antari, who is the property of its leaders. White London is under threat due to its dimensional proximity to Black London, its fate having worsened after Red London refused its pleas for help and sealed itself off.

Kell is on an assignment to take a letter to Astrid, one of the twin rulers of White London. After drinking too much with her, he stumbles into the White London version of the tavern, colliding with Delilah Bard. Delilah, who goes by Lila, dreams of becoming a pirate and holds a magical map that she believes can direct her anywhere she wants to go. Ostensibly, she has come to the tavern because a fire has destroyed her lodging. She persuades Kell to deliver a mysterious letter along with a payment to a location in Red London.

Kell goes to Red London, but is ambushed; he realizes that the parcel constituting “payment” contained a magic stone and a rune that tracks one’s location. He tries to escape but is cornered by a man with a sword who is under a mind-controlling spell. The man tries to murder him, but Kell activates the stone and slows time, defeating him. Kell evades the other pursuers by hopping back over to Grey London. There, Lila snatches the stone and attempts to escape. Kell catches her and tells her about its magical properties. When Lila examines the stone, it turns into a huge black sword. Alarmed, Lila throws it out the window, where another man happens upon it. He accidentally stabs himself with the sword, infecting him with dark magic.

Holland finds Lila and holds her hostage, demanding that she summon Kell. Kell arrives, and Holland engages him in combat; the tavern owner dies in the ensuing fight. Realizing that the magic stone is a relic of Black London, Lila and Kell resolve to return it to its rightful place so that Black London becomes sealed off again. Meanwhile, the black magic spreads between non-magical humans, controlling them and turning their eyes black.

Astrid interrupts Kell and Lila’s travel, coercing them into going to the palace. She controls Rhy with magic and reveals that she wants to remove all barriers between worlds, ascending to the throne of all four Londons with her brother, Athos. She discovers Lila has the stone, which has a second half, and pursues them, stabbing Rhy. Kell and Lila escape with an unconscious Rhy. En route to safety, Holland finds Kell, separating him from the rest, trying to take the stone. Kell kills him and finds Lila in the middle of combat in White London. He rescues her and confronts Athos, who possesses the stone’s other half. Athos’s own magic turns on him and kills him, allowing Kell to get both pieces of the stone. Meanwhile, Astrid transforms herself into the guise of Lila, confronting Kell and begging for the stone. Seeing through the disguise, he kills her, and in the same fight, overcomes the dark power of the stone. Kell and Lila return to Red London. There, they recount their story to the king and queen and place Prince Rhy in recovery. Lila is pardoned for her crimes. Eager to start her next journey, she departs on a ship to explore the seas.

A Darker Shade of Magic’s plot centers on two disparate characters who come together to defeat the unrestrained, oppressive magical force of Black London despite their relative powerlessness. In doing so, they learn that all forms of power must be monitored and restrained to keep the worlds of London free of the tyrannical impulses that always threaten to emerge from the darker parts of human nature.