A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
Published by Tor on February 24, 2015
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: eBook
Source: Purchased
Purchase on: Amazon// Barnes & Noble// BookBub
Add to: Goodreads // StoryGraph

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.


I have wanted to read A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab for close to a decade. For some reason, I was never able to find the time to read the book and whenever I tried listening to the audiobook, I couldn’t focus. When finally I had time and focus, I suggested it for a buddy read and zoomed through it. This was absolutely amazing. I had so many emotions. It was just such a fantastic and visceral fantasy novel that I definitely think needs to be read by anyone that considers themself a fantasy reader.

Worldbuilding is absolutely spectacular! Schwab starts with one very well known location and splits this into 4 different variations that are so completely, starkly different from one another. Grey London is recognizable as the London we would know – devoid of magic yet full of pollution. Red London, a magical beautiful place at the height of splendor where nothing can ever go wrong because everything is always so right. White London, an absolutely TERRIFYING city of desperation and starvation. And Black London, well, we haven’t seen that yet. Each London has it’s own essence and the reasoning behind it is logical. The magic makes sense.

Plot was both intricate and straightforward. What I mean by that is that it was subtle going forward. You understand the problem once it arises, the needs and desires that drive the characters who propel it forward. Yet, the way everything will play out isn’t obvious until it happens. Once events unfold, all the little clues of foreshadowing, the building blocks of plot, are clear. I worried throughout, wondering what would happen and then as things happened, realized I should have expected it all along. Pacing was a little clunky at the start, but that’s understandable considering this is a brand new fantasy world that needed some base level of information dumping. It absolutely picked up as plot began snowballing toward the end.

Now, my favorite thing of A Darker Shade of Magic…

The Characters!

Before I get to my absolute favorites children, let me talk about Delilah. I don’t know if this is because we are almost 10 years later as a society from when this was written, or if it was just me, but I was not overly fond of her. She seemed much flatter than other characters, with her main features being look at me, I’m a tough not like other women woman. Again, this feels like it is very much what a lot of “strong, female characters” were written as and viewed as ten years ago. So it could very well be that Delilah was a product of the times. I guess I just didn’t understand what she as a character brought to the world. If she didn’t exist, I think the story would still work and I believe that is why I just didn’t care for her.

With that out of the way, let me talk about my first best boy, Prince Rhy! He seemed like just such a great kid. Someone that absolutely loves (as either a brother or a lover) Kell and just wants Kell to feel included, feel loved. Rhy gives of himself and just wants to be the best he can, for his people, and for Kell. When spoiler spoiler happens, I was devastated and I threw my kindle down, having to walk the length of my apartment. I was distraught, and yet, I should have known better and had better faith. As the series continues, I really hope we aren’t treated to a Delilah/Rhy pairing, but it wouldn’t surprise me (honestly, I would really love to see a Kell/Rhy pairing.)

My second best boy, Kell. Yes, you’d think he’d be my first best boy because he is the main character. He almost would be. Kell is such a sad character. He has no past and no peers. Kell is acutely aware that he is a belonging, a pet, an oddity. It is such a depressing reality, to be a treasure within a gilded cage. To cope, he takes small liberties, minuscule rebellions that should be of no consequence. He takes small trinkets from one world to another in secret. This becomes his downfall.

If neither Rhy, nor Kell, nor Delilah are my ultimate favorite character, who could it be? Well, if you’ve followed my reviews for any length of time, you’d know I have a very soft spot for villains. My favorite character was and is Holland. Holland is the absolute most tragic character in this book, possibly the series. Kell views himself as a songbird in a gilded cage, praised and loved, but trapped. Holland has no niceties, no beauty, no comfort. He is a prisoner. He is trapped. There is no silver lining for him. I want to talk more about him, but it would delve heavily into spoiler territory so I won’t. Just trust me when I say Holland is just heartbreaking. I hope we see more of him as we go on with the series.

If I haven’t made it clear yet, A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab is an absolute masterclass in new fantasy. Pick it up if you haven’t already.


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