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

A Darker Shade of Magic
By: V. E. Schwab
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor
Series: Shades of Magic (Book #1)
Award: Goodreads Choice Award for Fantasy (2015)

There’s something that just draws me to A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. And sitting here behind my keyboard trying to explain why, I find myself returning to the oversimplified non-answers I’ve given when asked why I read fantasy novels. Because it’s wonderful. Because I should read it. Because I must read it. Because, it’s the sort of thing that makes you believe in magic, or at least want to.

On a more relatable note, because it’s a damned good book and I loved every second of it.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first novel in the Shades of Magic series, written by V. E. Schwab. For those playing along at home, this is a pseudonym for Victoria Schwab, author of several young adult series such as Monsters of Verity and The Archived. Generally, a book bearing V. E. is an adult book, and a book with Victoria is young adult.

Now that the details are out of the way, on to the story!

Kell is an Antari, a wielder of magic with unparalleled abilities. Raised by the royal family, his duty is to carry correspondence between magic using Red London to the other Londons – boring Grey London where magic is only found in stories and White London where people struggle to control magic before it controls them. When off duty he smuggles items between worlds, the consequences of which could be dire. Now with firsthand experience of just how dire these consequences are, Kell runs into Delila Bard, Lila to her friends, a thief from Grey London who only sees Kell’s nightmare as her only chance for real adventure.

I love stories that include alternate universes. This one is no exception. Each London is unique. Grey London, our London, is almost completely magic-less and rather drab. Red London is a world where magic is in full use, the seat of a magnificent empire, when the Thames shines red. White London is a rather brutal land where people fight over power and magic, and the magic fights back against them. Then, there is Black London, a place spoken of in whispers and one we never see, destroyed by magic and sealed off from the rest.

The use of magic in this book is rather unique in one large way. Magic isn’t just a tool to be used in Red London, nor any of the others. It’s a real thing, perhaps intangible, but ever present. Some crave it, and the magic ultimately destroys them. This isn’t in the intangible, sometimes intellectual way other books may show – a wizard bent on power, creating the ultimate ‘thing’, or what have you. These people are quite literally killed by magic. This magic has completely consumed one entire world, and it is slowly killing the population of another. More than that, magic is a real entity treated, in many ways, as a character unto itself. Magic has its own language, its own rules. And, happily, really isn’t all that difficult of a concept to grasp, unlike some other magic systems I’ve seen.

The book is told in third person with the viewpoint switching mainly between Kell and Lila. Now, I love most of the characters in the book. Kell is a little broody, at odds with himself, but determined to make things right. Rhy is, simply put, tons of fun. The twin rulers of White London are rather terrifying. Lila is likable, and I enjoyed reading from her point of view. However, if you’re looking for a ‘unique’ heroine, to use a vague, somewhat overused term, Lila may not fit that mold. At first, her motivation is adventure, and later to see things through. On their own, both of those are perfectly fine motivations, enough to fuel a book of her own, and, indeed, there are many books revolving on plot lines that are just that. But, with Kell’s much more dire situation, I found Lila’s motivations to be somewhat lackluster in comparison.

A Darker Shade of Magic is unnaturally readable. The prose is lovely and easy to read. Something about the book simply compelled me to keep reading, egging me to go on. Did I give it a perfect 5 stars? No. I can see that there are minor issues, nothing immense or looming, but there nonetheless, and perhaps having to do with Lila as a character. However, it is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year, and, possibly, one of my new favorite series.

Read If:
You're looking for a new fantasy series, you like alternating points of view

Don't Read If:
You don't like alternating points of view, you don't like stories with multiple worlds

About author

Kathleen Townsend

Kate writes things, reads things, and writes about things she reads. She’s had a few short stories published, and works as a freelance editor. Favorite genres include epic & high fantasy, science fiction, time travel stories, video game related tales, light novels, and manga.

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