A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab

About the Book

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby 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 another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

400 pages (hardcover)
Published on February 24, 2015
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent for me to review by the publisher.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those books that arrived in the mail, pushed everything else I was reading to the side, and became my single focus for the entire day it took me to read it.

No, let’s be real. I think I plowed through this thing in about four hours. Why? Because, simply put, I could not put it down. Period.

Vicious, last year’s incredible work by Schwab, blew my mind. I thought that it couldn’t get any better than that, and I was completely wrong. A Darker Shade of Magic not only blew my mind, but it also haunted, and mesmerized me. This is helped along quite a bit by the confidant prose that Schwab fills the novel with.

A Darker Shade of Magic takes place in multiple Londons. If you’re like me, and you’re kind of sick of books that take place in London, don’t fear. Each London is different enough to be interchangeable with just about anywhere. The only real similar aspect of them in the Thames. Of course one London will feel more like the London we all know, but Schwab strikes a good balance. Yes, it’s London, but it’s just vague enough for readers to visualize it being anywhere, and it’s just solid enough for readers to be able to geographically stick it somewhere mentally.

And yes, the world(s) is/are kind of vague, a little fuzzy around the edges, but that’s because the world doesn’t matter as much as the people and the magic that fills it. In fact, the rather fuzzy world allows Schwab to focus intensely on the characters, their motivations, and all the small details that make them shine so much. When you think of the book in that light, it’s not really sacrificing one to improve another, it’s more of a huge step in the right direction.

The Londons that Schwab has created are incredibly diverse and very, very layered. The cultural nuances that I love so much are deftly wove into the world building, which makes the implications of the magic, Kell’s place in it all, and the plot that he works through that much more compelling. Furthermore, these diverse and well-crafted Londons are all quite thought provoking. It’s easy to imagine how one element of our world, changed just enough, would impact everything we know.

Schwab takes a bit of time making her plot incredibly obvious. Readers will go through the first fourth of the book (or thereabouts) learning a ton about the culture and the magic system, and how it’s altered the various Londons. They’ll really get to know Kell well, and be introduced to some compelling secondary characters. This buildup of important players, culture, and magic is incredibly beneficial. Once the plot does become obvious, readers will be able to focus on that, and truly enjoy it for the intricate dance that it really is.

Lila is a fantastic addition to the book, and quickly turned into one of my favorite characters. She’s an individual in every sense, with an inner strength, drive, and determination that makes her captivating. She is no wilting flower, or a woman after romance. Lila knows what she wants, and she’s not afraid to kick ass and take names to get it. Perhaps her acceptance of Kell’s situation was a bit too abrupt to be completely believable, but other than that, Lila was one of the highlights of this book, and the way her story ended thrilled me beyond description.

The antagonists are no slouch, either. Schwab seems to excel at creating each character with their own motivation and drive. No one is exactly what they seem, and discovering who and what they are is almost as thrilling as figuring out how Kell and company will get to the end they are seeking.

So, what is all of this high praise boiling down to?

A Darker Shade of Magic releases on February 24. This is absolutely one of those books that readers should keep an eye on. It’s early days yet, but I think this one will shine as a bright point throughout the year. I predict it making many “Best Of” lists.

This one is really something special.


5/5 stars

2 Responses

  • My feeling is that Lila is the real center and beginning point of the novel, and that in some ways, Kell is a *mechanism* to allow her to shine. Not that this is a bad thing.

    I was expecting a “magic London” novel, but this is not that at all.

  • Definitely want to read this one! I’ve been lusting after it for weeks now!

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