They were right.
A Darker Shade of Magic is the story of Kell and Lila. Kell is Antari, a user of blood-magic who can travel between three different worlds, all of which happen to have a city called London, though the city itself is very different in each. Kell hails from Red London, a land of magic (obviously) that apparently smells like flowers, where the Isle (aka the Thames) is a source of power, and people in general can use elemental magics. He also has a very neat coat that is actually a bunch of coats and must have some sort of inter-dimensionality charm attached to it for it to function as it does. As one of only two living Antari, Kell works as a messenger passing letters between the monarchs of the three Londons. Oh, and he also smuggles items between the worlds, something that is strictly forbidden, because he has a bit of a fascination for items from the other Londons. He's basically a male, land-based, world-traveling version of Ariel. He's got gadgets and gizmos aplenty, he's got whosits and whatsits galore. You want thingamabobs? He's got twenty. But who cares? No big deal...
And then there's Lila. Lila is from Grey London, our own London. She's a thief who wants nothing more than to be a pirate. Basically, Lila is awesome. She has her own code of honor and she dreams of getting away, doing more. Basically, if Kell is Ariel, Lila is Belle.
When Kell winds up in Grey London with a mysterious artifact from the fallen Black London, he ends up on a collision course with Lila--literally. And when he decides that he has to take the item back to Black London and seal it away, even it means that he won't be able to make it back, he finds out that he's not going to be able to go without Lila tagging along. Of course nothing goes smoothly, everything gets messed up, and now it's up to these two to save the world(s).
I loved this. Schwab has a great writing style, not too ornate or too simplistic, just enough to draw you in without drowning you in unnecessary details and without trying to hide things away for the sake of being clever. The world building here was awesome. It has strong elements of Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy, with the way that worlds can overlay each other and what's in one place might be in another, but be different, but Schwab makes this concept (which is certainly in use in other places, as well) her own. Red London was absolutely breathtaking and I want to live there. White London was coldly terrifying, just alien enough to put you on edge. And Black London... Well, call me crazy, but I would love to see Black London. The way the mythology is set up here makes Black London seem like a place that could be beautiful or terrible, or both at once, and those are the sorts of settings I love the most. I hope that we get to actually see it in future books. And while I usually immediately start shipping people in this book, I liked that Lila and Kell remained somewhat friendly, somewhat exasperate partners for this. Might that evolve into something more in the future? Maybe. I can't really tell from this, though there are a couple of instances that hint it might. I could go either way on this part; I think they could be good together, but I'm just as content to see them remain friends, which is honestly pretty rare in books, and even more rarely done well.
This was, overall, a beautiful, riveting fantasy. I absolutely loved it, and I'm already thinking of how I can get it into the hands of some other people I know would really enjoy it.
5 stars out of 5.