A Darker Shade of Magic was published a year ago in February 2015, but it somehow escaped my notice until the last quarter of the same year. I’m a bit perplexed at myself over this because I am a huge fantasy fan, and I’m always on the lookout for new novels in this genre. Still, I did not give it full attention, in case it was false hype, and yet I kept seeing and reading about it everywhere. I was still reluctant though, so I figured I would borrow a copy from the library to check it out.
Prior to reading the first page, I only knew the very bare bones of the plot — that there is a magician involved who can travel between parallel worlds, and these parallel worlds are mainly different variants of the London that I know and live in. There is more detail in the blurbs I’m reading online but it all glanced over my head. All I wanted was to find out how the world that V.E. Schwab created works; I want to read about the magic system, how diverse the four Londons are, and what vague time period is it all set.
I was not disappointed. It was all truly fascinating, and I couldn’t put the book down! I was reading it while traveling around northern Spain, and I spent one day and a half mostly in cafes and casual restaurants, consumed in getting on with the story and turning the pages. It is set in what appears to be a period of time when royals still rule in all the Londons (bar one), and sailing off in ships is the chief mode of transport to different kingdoms.
I have read some reviews where readers are cautioned of a what may be a slow start, and to those readers I say — world-building takes time. Schwab has created a universe rich in detail, and I found that this is evoked in me a compulsion to find out more about it. I did not find the plot dragging as she spouted off details here and there. I felt that it was all woven together pretty well; the story moved along as we found out more about the structure of the book’s universe.
Kell is the powerful magician blessed with the power to manoeuvre between worlds — Red London where he lives, Grey London, and White London. There is a fourth London called Black London, but none has entered that realm in many, many years. The magic in Red London is strong and vibrant. Some citizens are gifted, some are not, but magic is thought of positively, and those who are exceptionally skilled at it are respected. Kell is the most powerful magician in the realm, and despite being a royal, this status brings him internal discomfort and strife.
The other protagonist, Delilah Bard, is a citizen of Grey London, where magic has grown dull and appears completely dead. There are no magicians in Grey London. Unlike Kell who is conferred with a royal status, Lila is a citizen of the streets, a highly skilled thief that prowls around her London. Because of this, she is a wanted criminal, and an encounter with other thieves puts her in danger of being identified. Along with a chance meeting with Kell, this sets her off on the run, right on to a dangerous adventure and partnership with the Red London magician.
The plot involves political intrigue, deception, and yes, a good amount of magic. While Kell and Lila are the main heroes of this adventure, they are not perfect. Kell can get annoying at times, and I honestly did not care much for Lila despite her portrayal as an independent female character. The character who intrigued me the most was Holland, the White London counterpart of Kell. He is the only other character with the same magical capabilities, and I suppose serves as Kell’s foil. Is he good? Is he bad? Is he conflicted?
I can resoundingly say that A Darker Shade of Magic is worth all the hype. I have not had the pleasure of finding a new fantasy world since I came upon Brandon Sanderson’s The Final Empire five years ago. This is the second adult novel by Schwab, although I think it can pass off as a young adult read. She seems to write exclusively for the fantasy genre, and I might just check out her other books.
This book is the first in a series, with the second book, A Gathering of Shadows released just last February. You can perfectly end with this book though, as it has quite a well tied-up ending without a cliffhanger. I was actually surprised to learn there was a sequel, and I read that one immediately! Read my review of it here!
“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers.
– V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic
see ratings explanation
Let’s have a chat!
Have you read this book? What did you find likeable/not likeable about it?
Have you read any of the author’s other books?