A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab (2015)
Fiction | Fantasy
“Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.”
pooled ink Review:
This is one of those series that has been praised and promoted since its inception but in my typical fashion I’ve only just now started the journey. I’ve heard so many steady and fantastic reviews that it’s been on my TBR list for a while and at last I’ve found the time to read it and I must say I was not disappointed!
The world-building is absolutely gorgeously crafted, it was stunningly unique and wisely simplistic and somehow it felt true and familiar. From the very first page I was transported into this world of magic, blood, and adventure, following Kell as his life falls off a cliff. The world of this series won me over completely as did its characters, pacing, and plot.
Moving at a brisk pace we are introduced into a world at calm before impossibility, betrayal, and grim fate shatters the doors between worlds. The plot was brilliant as it twisted and turned, constantly evolving and keeping my interest. I think the writing has a lot to do with it because although, if one stops and thinks about it, this book has several elements similar to other fantasy books, the writing was so captivating that one couldn’t help but get caught in the moment.
The writing and overall craftsmanship of this book had me simultaneously riveted and content. Strange, I know, but the story was so exciting yet there was something in the writing that felt warm and familiar…I don’t know how to explain it. Basically this book just really clicked for me. There are good books, great books, and books that manage to connect and vibe with you.
As for the characters I was mostly pleased. Kell, the leading protagonist, is Antari which essentially means he was born with blood magic and can thus open doors between worlds: Grey London (our world), Red London (Kell’s world), White London (the villain’s world), and Black London (we don’t talk about that misfortune).
Kell was instantly likeable. Responsible, a bit reckless, confident, unsure, loving, duty-bound, clever, and compassionate. He was raised in the palace of Red London but although the prince, Rhy, considers them brothers Kell can never quite forget that he is an object to be used by the crown. And it is through his job as the King’s messenger that their worlds end up in chaos. (Also he has this coat that is actually many coats and that just might be one of the coolest things haha)
Holland, the Antari of White London was an interesting character and I wished the story spent more time with him. Kell considers them two of a kind but Holland was raised in White London where freedom is a long-dead dream and only force keeps you alive. Kell might feel a bit lost at times but he was ultimately raised in a safe and supportive environment while Holland was forced to fight for his every breath. It’s an interesting glimpse into nature vs. nurture.
The Dane Twins are terrifying. Blood thirsty, ruthless, cold, and fierce, they rule White London with terror and might. Holland is a plaything for their schemes and amusement, to be used as a tool for their continued rule. Never content they find an object that shouldn’t exist and with it they become the ultimate villains of the book.
Okay. Lila. What to say about you… Although the book is told in third person it does switch focuses between Kell and also Lila. When we are first introduced to Lila I was excited. A resident of Grey London (our world) she’s like a scrappy young spitfire with an Oliver Twist sort of vibe. She’s a snarky pickpocket, living on the streets of London saving up for her dreams of becoming a Captain and sailing away for adventure. Cool right? Okay but then her path crosses Kell’s and from that moment on I had no patience for her. She is arrogant, bossy, short-tempered, kind of an asshole, and continuously makes stupid decisions.
Dealing With Magic 101: If an object that is clearly magical and certainly powerful gives you horrible vibes because you can sense its darkness then you should certainly part ways with it however the way to do so is NOT to chuck it out your bedroom window. NEVER TOSS POWERFUL EVIL MAGICAL OBJECTS OUT YOUR WINDOW YOU UTTER DUNCE. Because believe it or not that doesn’t solve anything at all. Rather all it does is pass on said object into the hands of some passerby who stumbles across it and since you live above a tavern those hands are likely to be those of a foolish drunk. [Cue spread of dark magic *eye roll*]
I could honestly write pages on how frustrating Lila was to me. If it wasn’t for needing her to help out Kell now and then (because as great as Kell is he can’t fight two Londons on his own and I grudgingly admit he and Lila made a good team) I’d rather she sailed away sooner. I’m all about clever and tough female characters but Lila rubbed me the wrong way so while we shall never be friends I am glad that she was there to aid Kell.
ANYWAY, with the exception of Lila I thought that this book was absolutely fantastic. It had me hooked right away and I’m excited to see where it takes me next. If you enjoy books with fantasy, magic, parallel worlds, adventure, and all tinged in a gritty darkness, then you really might want to check this series out.
Oh and the ending! This book was wrapped up in my favorite way: the plot comes to an end, the players go their separate ways, but there lingers in the air the promise of more.
If you’re in search for a fantasy book that will lure you in with a world sung like a lullaby, thrum in your veins with a plot thick with darkness, and halt your breath as each page escalates and excites, then A Darker Shade of Magic should be on your list. Incredible world-building, characters that feel true, and stakes that rise higher with every twist, this is a series you can’t miss.
Purchase here: A Darker Shade of Magic
Meet V.E. Schwab!
I am the product of a British mother, a Beverly Hills father, and a southern upbringing. Because of this, I have been known to say “tom-ah-toes”, “like”, and “y’all”. I also suffer from a wicked case of wanderlust, made worse by the fact that wandering is a good way to stir up stories. When I’m not haunting Paris streets or trudging up English hillsides, I’m usually tucked in the corner of a coffee shop, dreaming up monsters.
Victoria has stated that books published under V.E. Schwab are adult releases and those under Victoria Schwab are YA.
-via her Goodreads and Blog bio pages