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

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, Victoria Schwab
Amazon|The Book Depository
Pages: 398
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24th 2015
Genres: 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.


I was genuinely surprised by this book. I hate the “mega-hype” that accompanies books because I often feel let down by the glowing reviews. It follows a lot of first book standards such as spending time to build the worlds, and give small insights into the characters but not too much that would hinder development in the later books.

Writing. This is the first book by Victoria Schwab I have ever read. I came across it via a friend who is a fan of the publishing company, Tor. I have to say I’m impressed with her writing style. However, if you don’t enjoy 200+ pages of description, world building, character building/background, and slight plot developments before you get to any action then I don’t think you will be fan of Schwab’s series.

It took almost too long for things to really get going but once the action started it didn’t stop. I read the book over the course of 3-4 days and once I got past the first third I found it hard to stop and go about my planned weekend activities. Schwab reminded me of old-fashioned fantasy novelists – very slow to start, but really ramps up in the later half of the book.

Setting. I loved the world building – Grey, Red, White and Black London. The idea that London happened to appear in all four worlds in ways that were similar and yet wildly different and reflective of the universe’s they inhabited was pretty unique in terms of other books/series I’ve read where parallel universe exist. I was only mildly upset that Black London was talked about several times but wasn’t a location we ever got to see (yet). I felt like the blurb was misleading in this aspect the most because when I read it I definitely thought Lila was going to force Kell to take her there. Which I mean, I guess she kind of did but not really. More on that below.

Characters. I found most of the characters interesting, but also noticed a lot of character cliches. Lila was probably the worst of the worst for me in this series. She’s an incredibly flat character – a thief, a “pirate”, has a strong potential for magic. But everything about her felt so dull, I wasn’t interested in what had hardened her to this lifestyle and felt no sympathy for anything. I do think she is a great foil for Kell, but honestly had no interest in seeing her story line furthered. I really loved the whole dynamic between Kell and Holland, Holland and the Danes twins, and really just Holland on his own. I felt those relationship dynamics were really interesting.

Cons: The blurb for this book is very misleading. I felt the way events played out was very different than how they were mentioned in the blurb, which was both good and bad. First – we don’t actually ever get to Black London. At around 100-pages left it becomes clear that Black London, while talked about, will not make any kind of physical appearance in this installment and I was disappointed. Also I expected Lila to actually, and this might be a stretch, DO SOMETHING that forces Kell to take her along. I never got the impression that Lila forces Kell, instead he resigns himself to taking her along.

Other Notes: I want to know more about where Kell came from, I suspect he’s originally from Black London. Lila’s powers are definitely going to be Antari related – based on the fact that a Traveler has never thought to bring someone with them and the glass eye. The black possession needed to be fleshed out more. That side story wasn’t developed enough to be included and often confusing. Also if Astrid had the second half of the stone and her brother had the first, how did she lose such a powerful item? Seriously?? I don’t think she would accidentally misplace something like that.

SHADOWS. The group that stole Rhy as a child. Definitely want to see more of this group in the second book, and I’m hoping the title (A Gathering of Shadows) is the main focus. Also would like to see Black London!

A Darker Shade of Magic falls into a lot of “first book syndrome” problems, but I have high hopes the second book will provide more character development and a bit of a faster paced story with more information on the Shadows, Kell, and Antari magic. I’m hoping the only waiting I’ll have to do is in regards to the mailing of A Gathering of Shadows and not 200+ pages before things get interesting.

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