"The Night Market was in full swing. Vendors in colored tents sold wares by the light of river and lantern and moon, some food and others trinkets, the magic and mundane alike, to locals and to pilgrims. A young woman held a bushel of starflowers for visitors to set on the palace steps. An old man displayed dozens of necklaces on a raised arm, each adorned with a burnished pebble, tokens said to amplify control over an element. The subtle scent of flowers was lost beneath the aroma of cooking meat and freshly cut fruit, heavy spices and mulled wine. A man in dark robes offered candied plums beside a woman selling scrying stones. A vendor poured steaming tea into short glass goblets across from another vibrant stall displaying masks and a third offering tiny vials of water drawn from the Isle, the contents still glowing faintly with its light. Every night of the year, the market lived and breathed and thrived. The stalls were always changing, but the energy remained, as much a part of the city as the river it fed on. Kell traced the edge of the bank, weaving through the evening fair, savoring the taste and smell of the air, the sound of laughter and music, the thrum of magic."
Sometimes books about magic are, truly, magical. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, Stardust by Neil Gaiman are examples of this for me. Your examples will be different than mine, but you probably know what I mean - those books that are fantasy, but resonate because of the mystery and beauty of the world.
That's how I felt about A Darker Shade of Magic. I really liked this book a lot, with its parallel Londons, some closer to the magical heart of the world, some further away. Black London - disappeared, and mythic. Dark and dangerous. White London, set along side Black London, a place where magic is so pervasive that it settles like ash over everything. White London is bleached of color, and the magic here is cruel, and harsh.
Red London - my favorite London. The perfect balance of mundane and magic, where power glows like phosphorescence in the very water of the Thames. And Grey London - our London, far distant from the magical heart of the world.
Kell is a traveler, one of the few remaining people who is capable of moving from London to London. While in Grey London, he meets Delilah Bard, a tough girl and thief, who first saves his life. Then saves his life again:
“Tell me, do you underestimate everyone, or just me? Is it because I’m a girl?”
“It’s because you’re a human,” he snapped. “Because you may be the bravest, boldest soul I’ve ever met, but you’re still too much flesh and blood and too little power.”
This is a completed story, and can be read as a stand-alone, although I am excited that V.E. Schwab has announced a sequel, called A Gathering of Shadows, to be released in February of 2016 (link to amazon page).