A Darker Shade of Magic and Color
I've considered myself an artistic person for about as long as I can remember. When I was younger I loved illustrating outfits for my favorite actors on TV and dreaming up my own outlandish comic characters. I've always lived my life paying particular attention to colors and space, to the way those things make me feel and how they affect the people around me. So when A Darker Shade of Magic (a book centered around four worlds dictated each by a separate color) made an appearance in my life, I was immediately hooked.
In V.E. Schwab's world there are four Londons, described by the main character as Gray London, Red London, White London, and Black London. Already, my mind was coming up with color palettes and outfit ideas, color-blocked imagery that only a visually-minded person such as myself is really in the habit of obsessing over.
As any practiced artist will tell you, colors have their own emotions.
Red is angry, alive and roaring; I've had more than one teacher instruct me to be carful when using it in a piece because it will halt the viewer's eye as it moves across the composition. Red is a dangerous color, for more than one reason, but it's also that of life and wellness. Hearts are red, and blood and roses and chili peppers. You see where I'm going with this?
White is purity; pearls and gardenias and linen hanging on a clothesline on a warm, sunny day. But it's also the absence of color, bare and void of any emotion or feeling at all. White, for all its well-known meaning, is the color at the base of every other. White can be transformed into almost anything else; it's the color of transition and potential.
Gray is possibly the dullest of any color, and most would likely name it as such if asked. But it is a foundational color. It's the color of rocks and the cloudy sky during a storm. We're all conditioned to hate gray because of its seeming unattractiveness, but without it we would have no reprieve from the harsh light of luminous red and jarring white. Gray grounds us, it reminds us that we need sadness to appreciate happiness and that even the brightest colors need a neutral.
Black is perhaps the trickiest of colors. Melancholy is always black, along with horror and sin. It's the color of metal music and wayward teens, of night and death. It can stop your eye for an entirely different reason, creating a boundary that we may not have even realized exists. Just as white is associated with the light, black is associated with darkness and in this same way it carries a potential almost opposite to that of white. Where white can be transformed into other colors, black is already the amalgamation of every color that exists. Black is the unknown, its enlightenment and fear. Black is whatever is just outside of your mind's reach, that idea you're searching for; its knowing that there is more out there somewhere in the darkness, waiting for you to step from the safety of the light into the shadows. It's frightening, but looking at black as a color is to look at everything that already exists and dare to dream that there may be more beyond it.
The reason for my exponentially long tangent is that this description and detail of color is something thoroughly examined by Schwab in A Darker Shade. She successfully took all of my thoughts and feelings on color and transformed them into a magically kaleidoscopic literary world. Each London is wonderful in its own way, whether it is warm and pulsing like Red London or dry and barren like White London. This novel is tremendously inventive, and the characters only add to the complexity of each London's color. Kell, from Red London, is so magically inclined that he has little trouble manipulating the wind with the flick of his fingers, but still finds himself feeling as though something is missing. Lila, a poor teenager slumming it in a decrepit ship and stealing pocket change to live, is from Gray London and lacks any magical inclination, though she makes up for this potentially damning circumstance in multiple other ways. Each separate layer of Schwab's universe is a brightly lit portrayal of the colors and shades we see in the real world, of the people and circumstances that surround us. She details this all beautifully, bringing us not only a new, colorful world, but extending its magic into our own.
This is a book, and series, that I would truly recommend to anyone. The journey is an unforgettable one, and I am truly sorry that this first installment had to come to an end. This novel earned a 5/5 stars from me, and I would likely give it a 6/5 if it were possible. I'm usually picky about my fantasy selections, but the concept behind this one was so brilliant that I loved it almost immediately. I absolutely cannot wait to read the second book in the Darker Shade series.