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

Do you ever read a book and wish the world (or worlds, in this case) was real? That you could just pack a bag and travel to the place you’re reading about?

That’s how I felt listening to A Darker Shade of Magic. 

Sure, the story was interesting, and Kell and Lila certainly captured my attention. But it was the worlds of Red London and White London and Grey London that had me wishing the story was real. I mean – three parallel cities, each with their own characteristics and….personalities? Where only the outline is the same? Sounds like a wonderful set of adventures just waiting to happen.

I suppose that’s how Delilah Bard felt when Kell described it to her.

Speaking of Lila, she was really the star of the novel. Oh, Kell’s fine – if a little boring. Lila is the interesting one, and the reason for Kell’s eventual character growth. Their interactions are a lot of fun, though I’ll be honest and admit that I couldn’t decide if there’s a romance budding or if it’s more of a brother-sister kind of camaraderie. Either way, it works.

For most of the story, Kell and Lila are trying to return a dangerous magical artifact to Black London, which was long ago sealed off because it was deemed too dangerous. Items from Black London either destroy or corrupt the people who wield them – yet, strangely, Lila – who has no magic at all – seems unaffected. What follows is a fast-paced tale of carrying the artifact through the different Londons, all in an attempt to return it to Black London and therefore render it useless. Complicating matters is the fact that a handful of people (understandably) want the powerful item for themselves.

V.E. Schwab’s series gets a lot of love, and after finishing A Darker Shade of Magic it’s easy to see why. She’s created an incredible world, full of magic, but also realistic – it’s not too terribly far-fetched to imagine such things in our world, even if the thought of parallel Londons is a bit out there. Schwab has also written two vastly different, yet incredibly similar characters – characters that as a reader, you want to root for. Or want to be.

Stylistically, A Darker Shade of Magic reminds me of a cross between The Magicians and The Name of the Wind. While written for adults, I think it’s accessible enough that younger readers would easily enjoy it too. Definitely give this one a try if you’re a fantasy fan!

Series: Shades of Magic #1    Hardcover: 400 pages    Audio: 12 hours

Published: February 2015 by Tor Books    Source: Purchased via Scribd

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A Darker Shade of Magic on Goodreads

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.

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