The first book in a trilogy, A Darker Shade of Magic introduces you to a world of three parallel Londons. Two of them have magic, while the third--Grey--does not. We follow Kell, a man connected to the royal family in Red London, as he tries to save his adopted brother from a fearsome magical evil. Along the way, Kell meets Lila, a young woman from Grey London with a questionable past. Lila has been thieving from unsuspecting bar guests for most of her life, and dreams of becoming a pirate; she sees in Kell an opportunity to change her fate and escape the mundane life that awaits her in Grey London. The world Schwab has created is sure to entrance, delight--and keep you reading for another two books just to stay up to date with Kell and Lila, among others.
Mary Doria Russell is an anthropologist by profession and her academic background shows in her brilliant first novel, which sends a Jesuit mission to space in search of the source of haunting musical broadcasts from the Alpha Centauri system. Starting after the rescue of Emilio Sandoz— priest, linguist, and lone survivor of the expedition—the unfolding horror of what happens to the mission is at all times present in the narrative but contrasts with the heartbreaking beauty of the relationships formed between the explorers on the alien world of Rakhat. Russell gracefully balances questions of faith, love, and family with a speculative premise of awful and magnificent scope.