The world operates on order. Who makes the rules? Who decides consequences derived from said rules? Who holds the power? It seems that the conflicts inside many young adult dystopias follow along the same principles: a domineering authority consuming the few scraps left in some desolate landscape. My independent reading book, A Darker Shade of Magic, is no exception to this theme. Victoria Schwab’s masterpiece features overblown palaces filled with so-called royalty, an impressive array of magic wielding villains, and a dark stone that could destroy all realities.
Instead of adhering to the standard overbearing government in need of a rebellion plot, Schwab created a universe with omnipotent magic that, depending on the realm, could be used to claim power. What interests me are the correlations that can be made between the illusion of control and those that accept the magic’s existence in their world. Take “White London”, a realm where magic has absorbed all form of color and life from the city. The only form of leadership comes from a bloodthirsty throne that is open to be conquered by anyone who is willing to prove themselves superior through a battle to the death with whoever currently holds the title. The common people who lack magical talent believe they have no control over this process so they simply accept it as the natural order of things. By strategically demonstrating their power to the magicless, the top magicians gain authority that can then be used to control the populations. Instead of igniting rebellion, the commoners fight amongst themselves for crumbs of leftover magic. This enables the victors of the throne to maintain control by keeping the individuals separate, paranoid of one another, and fearful of their overlords.
The impossible artifact that conveniently crosses paths with the main character, Kell, represents a disruption in the order of the realms. The user of the stone has access to dark and unbelievable magic that can actually breaks existing laws by creating things out of nothing. Although the stone creates a sense of control, wielding its power comes at great cost to the user. This illusion makes the stone all the more dangerous in the hands of an eager but inexperienced human. I see this plot thread as a warning to the readers in the typical dystopian fashion. To me, Schwab is drawing a connection between those who can control themselves when given responsibility, and those who become drunk with power. It is easy to be influenced by the power you wield and only you can control what you become as a result.
Schwab, Victoria. A Darker Shade of Magic. Tor, 2015.