Title: “A Darker Shade of Magic”
Author: V.E. Schwab
Pages (paperback): 398 pages
Original Publishing Date: 24 February 2015
Synopsis (from 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.”
Trigger/Content warnings for the novel:
- self-harm (for blood magic)
- character death
- [Note: yet again, I forgot to write down TWs and rep, so my apologies if I missed anything!]
Representation in the novel:
- bisexual side character
- disabled character (character is does not have an eye)
- ??? (Note: see the prior note)
Almost every book blogger and/or Booktuber I read/watch has loved this series. So after hearing about it one hundred thousand times (okay, that might be a tiny exaggeration, but still), I finally picked up the first book. And hello, new favorite book…outside of Six of Crows, of course.
A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab follows Kell, a magician called an Antari who can control the four types of elemental magic (earth, water, air, and fire), as well as blood magic. Antari are rare magicians; outside of himself, Kell knows of only one more, Holland. Kell is also part of the royal family. While he is not a biological brother to the prince, Rhy, he is often considered family on top of carrying messages to the different Londons.
Yup, you read that right, different Londons. Because, you see, Kell has the ability to pass through doors to different worlds that all incidentally have a city by the name of London. There is Red London, which is where Kell lives. Magic is used fairly regularly hear without much commotion, and Antari are revered. Grey London is the “regular” London, if you will. Most people do not know or believe in the existance of magic. White London is in the midst of a civil war due to magic; there, magic is seen as something that should be dominated, and whoever has the most control over it is the ruler. Finally, there is Black London, which is fabled to not even exist. Many years ago, magic tore through the entire world, destroying it from the inside out.
Although Kell passes through the different Londons for his king, he also goes on…unofficial business. Unbeknownst to the king and queen (though, not to Rhy), Kell is also a smuggler; he travels to Grey London to give items from the two magical Londons in eschange for trinkets and tokens from the “regular” London. However, while out on a smuggling job, he runs into trouble. Not only is the smuggled item a dangerous relic of magical power, but a girl from Grey London, Lila Bard, is thrown into the mix. Soon, both she and Kell are forced to work together in order to dispellthe relic back to Black London.
For me, this book definitely lived up to the hype. All of the characters are fun to read about, except the king and queen of Red London. They seem a little flat, though that could just be due to the fact that they were in the book so little. Everyone else, however, is amazing. Rhy is relaxed and flirtatious, but he deeply cares for, and often worries about, Kell. Kell himself is a wonderful protagonist: although he is an all-powerful Antarie who works for the royal family, he smuggles items through the different Longdons when that is strictly against the law. He is witty and a tad sarcastic, and I love him. Lilah is just a girl who wants an adventure so bad she would practically kill for it. She is impulsive and head-strong, and she exudes strong queer energy. I cannot wait to see where she will go in the next two books. And the only thing I will say about the twins is that they easily became my favorite love-to-hate villains. 10/10.
On to the plot and setting! I enjoyed both of them immensely. I was not really thinking about what was going to happen next; I was just along for the ride. I did not push to see what happened afterwards just because what was going on at any given time was so captivating, I did not see a reason to peak ahead. The ride itself ended up being a bit of a rollercoarster, abut that is more than okay. Seriously, though, the plot was engaging for me, and I was able to tear through the book fairly quickly, mostly due to anticipation. I knew in some way or another that Kell and Lila would succeed because A Darker Shade of Magic is the first of a trilogy, but I needed to know how. And, oof, I got the “how” alright.
Along with that, the setting and world-building were marvelous. At first, I was confused on which London was which, but as the book continued, I thought it was explained very well. As the reader travels along with Kell, they also learn the differences by simply being at Kell’s side throughout the novel. There was not a ton of info-dumping, and I enjoyed that; it made it much easier to read. I am pretty neutral about having different or alternate worlds within the same book because I have not read many books prior to this with those sorts of settings. However, I thought it worked extremely well, and now I have actually fallen in love a little bit with these Londons.
Overall, I devoured A Darker Shade of Magic, and I cannot wait to get my hands on A Gathering of Shadows. If you have yet to pick this up, I would recommend it if you have the chance.