Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, 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.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a book that has been recommended to me countless times but that I decided to wait to pick up until the last book was released. Now that I’ve finished it I’m kicking myself over the fact that I waited. Why did I wait so long!? This book has everything that I love to see when I’m reading fantasy – flawed characters, intricate world building, a unique magic system, and last but not least gorgeous writing that completely pulled me in. This book was my introduction to V.E. Schwab’s writing and I officially need to read all of her other books. I was just completely blown away by this book, simple as that.
As a Traveller, Kell is one of only two people in existence who have the ability to travel between the different Londons. There’s Red London which is beautiful and teeming with magic, Grey London which is sort of a reflection of our own world and lacks magic, White London which is a world that is not only very creepy but is slowly being drained by magic, and then Black London a world which was destroyed by magic and sealed off centuries ago. Kell is Red London’s Traveller and because of his abilities he works for the royal family to keep up communications between them and the royalty of Grey London and White London. However, he also has a secret little side business of his own which involves smuggling things from Red London and trading them to people from Grey London in exchange for something from their world. Kell’s smuggling is not only illegal but considered treason and even with that knowledge he can’t seem to stop doing it. During a visit to White London, he ends up unwillingly having to smuggle a letter back to Red London. When he goes to deliver the letter, however, he realizes that he’s walked head first into a trap. Instead of smuggling something as simple as a letter Kell has smuggled a piece of magic that comes from Black London which is not only forbidden but shouldn’t exist. Kell knows one thing for sure, he must get it out of Red London before its corrupt magic can do any damage and then destroy it at any cost. A Darker Shade of Magic starts off a bit slow but once it gets going it will sweep you off your feet and lead you on a magical and thrilling adventure full of danger and suspense.
“Every night of the year, the market lived and breathed and thrived. The stalls were always changing, but the energy remained, as much a part of the city as the river it fed on. Kell traced the edge of the bank, weaving through the evening fair, savoring the taste and smell of the air, the sound of laughter and music, the thrum of magic.”
My absolute favorite thing about A Darker Shade of Magic was the world building. Technically speaking V.E. Schwab built four different worlds within the pages of this book and I’m in awe over the masterful way in which she did it. The concept of parallel Londons that were each shaped by magic in some way is so incredibly unique and kept me spellbound. I didn’t even realize that the beginning of the book was a bit on the slow side because of the fact that I was immersed in the introduction of these worlds, their characters, and the magic system. Due to the complexity, it could have easily become one giant info dumping trap but it didn’t. I attribute that largely to V.E. Schwab’s beautiful writing and how she revealed information at the right moments with just enough intrigue to keep you wanting to know more. Although, we didn’t learn a lot about Black London, for valid reasons, but the mystery in which it was shrouded makes me excited for what could possibly be revealed in the next two books.
Aside from the world building I adored the characters! V.E. Schwab created these beautifully flawed and memorable characters that I couldn’t help but fall in love with. They’re right up there with Six of Crows and The Bone Season for me, which is saying something since you guys know how much I love those characters.
“Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”
Kell is the first character we’re introduced to and he’s quite intriguing. While outwardly he’s this respected figure in Red London for the fact that he’s one of the last Travellers and considered a member of the royal family, inwardly he has a bit of a hidden rebelliousness that comes out in the form of smuggling things between the different Londons. A rebelliousness that he quickly begins to learn the consequences of. What I loved about him most was the fact that he owned up to his mistakes and was determined to fix them, mainly to protect those he cares for. Also, his magic coat. Can we talk about how awesome that thing is? Can someone make them real because I want one!
Lila, our second main character, has officially made my list of top favorite female characters. I loved her from the second she was introduced! When we first meet her she burns down a ship. How badass is that? Lila is unapologetic and completely herself. She’s a thief who wants adventure in the form of a ship so that she can sail the world and become a pirate. I’ve definitely never come across a character like her before. She inadvertently gets her adventure when she pickpockets something dangerous and important from Kell but not in the way she was expecting.
“A wry smile cut acorss Lila’s mouth. “You’re a smuggler.”
“Says the pickpocket,” snapped Kell defensively.
“I know I’m a thief,” said Lila, lifting a red lin from the top of the chest and rolling it over her knuckles. “I’ve accepted that. It’s not my fault that you haven’t.”
I loved the dynamic between Kell and Lila, while he’s more serious and a tad cautious she has this ruthlessness and recklessness. They balanced each other out so well.
Besides Kell and Lila, there are so many other characters that I found incredibly interesting and quite a few that just plain creeped me out.
There’s Rhy who I wish we had seen more of because I love what we did see. He’s the Prince of Red London and comes off as a giant flirt that doesn’t take things seriously but in reality he truly wants to become a great leader for his people. And the dynamic between him and Kell was beautiful. Despite not being blood-related they consider each other brothers because they grew up together. I loved it.
“Some people say magic lives in the mind, others the heart,” said Holland quietly, “but you and I both know it lives in the blood.”
And then there’s Holland who is the other Traveller from White London. I don’t know what I’m supposed to feel towards this character which is what has made him so memorable for me. At first, I felt really bad for him and then I hated him and the cycle continues that way throughout the book. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so conflicted over a character before!
All in all, A Darker Shade of Magic turned out to be this incredible reading experience that took me on an adventure. From the different worlds to the characters, and then the magic system – I was completely blown away and fell in love with all of it. If you’re a huge fantasy fan and have yet to pick up this series then I highly recommend it. You won’t regret it!
Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? What did you think? If not is it on your TBR?