Imagine four Londons, all of them existing in the same space and time, known as Black, White, Red and Grey. Black London has been completely consumed by magic with nothing left behind. In White London, magic is scarce, the people are power hungry and it’s only getting worse as they’re the only thing standing between the dark consuming magic in Black London and everything else. There’s Red London, with plentiful magic and powerful magicians. This London is strong and the centre of much of the story, and finally in Grey London, they’ve been without magic for so long, no-one remembers ever having it.
Then there’s Kell Maresh. He’s an Antari. This means he’s been gifted with the extremely rare ability to travel between the four Londons as well as the power to manipulate all four elements (most magicians in Red London can only manipulate one or two). He was taken in as a child by Maxim, the king of Red London and serves him by passing messages between the rulers of Red, White and Grey Londons whilst protecting Prince Rhy, his adopted brother.
Kell is a complicated character and an engaging protagonist. Willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good, his relationship with his adopted royal family is a mix of loyalty, resentment and love. He wants things he knows he can never have, feels the responsibility for his trouble-magnet brother heavily and makes mistakes which have dire consequences. He’s not perfect and you wouldn’t want him to be, but he tries to be anyway.
Alongside Kell, there’s younger brother and heir to the throne, Rhy. Rebelling against the inevitable power he will be given with the crown and the lack of magical power he possesses, he chooses to party and enjoy the company of both men and women. During the trilogy, Rhy is forced to confront the responsibility of leadership as well as the feelings he has for the handsome and powerful pirate, Captain Alucard Emery.
Also joining the adventure is Lila Bard, a pickpocket from Grey London who is strong, smart and refuses to play the damsel. Stubborn and determined to do things her own way, there’s more to her than meets the eye and surprises everyone she meets (especially Kell). Then there’s Holland Vosijk, an Antari like Kell whose allegiances keep shifting and is possibly more powerful than Kell, but is also key to saving every London.
I believe a good book hinges on having interesting, multi-faceted characters and you won’t find an uninteresting character in this series. From the King and Queen of Red London with their own history and motivations to Ned Tuttle in Grey London, looking for magic in a magic-less world. It’s not hard to picture the characters in your mind, maybe even fan cast your favourite actors in the roles as some people have done with the possibility of the series to being turned into a film or TV series.
Once the four Londons have been established, it’s not long before Kell’s lapse in judgement leads to magical battles, tournaments, quests, politics, betrayal, romance and plenty of death. There’s barely a quiet moment to help you catch your breath before you’re being pulled into another twisty plot. The story’s villain is a strong opponent. Alongside the books’ humorous moments and witty dialogue, there are also just as many that are dark and scary. You’ll doubt a number of times throughout the trilogy that the heroes will succeed and the author isn’t scared to kill a major character. By the time you finish the last page (and lament that there’s no more story to read), the key storylines are satisfyingly tied up whilst leaving enough for your imagination to fill in the rest.
Even if fantasy stories aren’t usually your cup of tea, I would still encourage you to give the Darker Shade of Magic series a go. It’s well written, easy to follow and I’ve already waxed lyrical about the great characters. So what are you waiting for?
Buy the first in the series from Waterstones