Review: A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab

Book: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Pages: 400
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Magic
Published: 2015, Tor Books
Rating: ★★★★★


Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.


I simply can’t write this review with spoilers because I want you to read it, and if you know what’s going to happen, it won’t be as magical an experience. And it is a magical experience.

So let’s get right into it. *spins multi-sided coat*

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: controversial characters are the best characters. In my opinion at least. After all, what’s interesting about characters who do just as is expected of them? I’ll take Kell and Lila over a character like that any day. (Not much can be said about the characters that I wouldn’t count as spoilery – ahem, character-driven plot, anyone? – but just take my word for it, you’ll want to get to know them).

I mean really – one thing this book did was that it continually surprised me. From killing certain people and letting others live, to bringing in new secondary characters (and with them, new, valuable perspectives) that I wouldn’t have expected to see written into the plot, to keeping me guessing as to what was going to happen in the end (I legitimately thought it was going in a completely different direction) – I was kept on the edge of my seat the entire book. Which is exactly where I like to be kept while reading a book about magic and adventure, thank you very much.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Oh, Lila, you magnificent little cutthroat, you. So would I.

Speaking of adventure, can we just take a moment to appreciate the imagination on this author? It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of world-building when it comes to fantasy, and I’m happy to report that V.E. Schwab did not disappoint on any account. The concept of the four Londons (and the way that the worlds are built around them) works so simply but also seamlessly. I couldn’t find any plot holes. There’s such potential for it, but it’s written so elegantly, the mechanics of it revealed so subtly, that there simply are none.

So. Some of the not so great parts? The list is short.

At times, it can feel a little like the writing is talking at you (by which I mean, rather than to you). Like it’s trying to be a bit more of an *adult book* than it really succeeds in being. The first chapter or two didn’t draw me in as quickly as I would’ve liked. BUT. What the writing occasionally lacks in lyricism, it more than makes up for in the way it shows you things, and slowly but surely pulls you into the book, and into the worlds.

Also, I often read reviews before I set out to write mine (just to get a sense of what the general response is to the book, if mine was popular/unpopular, etcetera, etcetera). So I’m well aware that a lot of people complain that they weren’t able to relate or connect to the characters in ADSOM. *sighs* Okay?

My defence for this is simple enough: I don’t think you’re meant to necessarily get along with them. Given their respective situations, I thought they (particularly Kell and Lila) were well developed characters, and (perhaps more importantly) that their actions aligned with how I would have expected them to act. Specifically, Lila acted exactly as I expected a thief to act. Just because that put her in opposition to the plot at times, or showed her in an unpleasant light, doesn’t mean it’s any less a valid part of her characterization. She’s not meant to be like Robin Hood, or any *girl with a dark past who’s really a princess inside YA heroine*. My advice is to get over it, and accept her for what she is, or you’re going to feel like you’re butting heads with her the entire book.

I’ll leave you with the authors list of things to be found in the book (from Goodreads):

  • Magic
  • Cross-dressing thieves
  • (Aspiring) pirates
  • Londons (plural)
  • Sadistic kings (and queens)
  • A royal who is equal parts Prince Harry and Jack Harkness
  • More magic (blood magic, elemental magic, bad magic, etc. etc.)
  • Epic magicky fights scenes
  • Angst!
  • And coats with more than two sides

If that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will.

Hopefully I’ll be picking up a copy of the second book in this series, A Gathering of Shadows, sometime in the next few weeks, so look out for my review of that one too!

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I'm Emma Kath. Welcome to my blog! This is where I post my original book reviews, litstyle (lifestyle for the lit-nerd), and other bookish things. A little about me: I'm Canadian, and currently a student majoring in English lit and cultural studies. I'm an introvert (INFJ, if you believe in that sort of thing), sarcastic to the bone, I love art and history, and hope to one day travel around a bit. Until then, I'll be reading, writing, and trying to spread a little kindness around the internet. If you have any questions or inquiries, feel free to contact me!

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