A Darker Shade of Magic

March 21, 2017
A Darker Shade of Magic Book Cover A Darker Shade of Magic
Shades of Magic, #1
V.E. Schwab
Fantasy
Tor Books
February 24th, 2015
Hardcover
400
Library

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.

(via Goodreads)

 

Woah.

It’s been a long while since I’ve picked up a fantasy book that I couldn’t put down. Often, I find that I run into world building or character development which seems forced, or the pacing is off. Then, I find that I’m putting the book down for a few days at a time (which is completely ludicrous for me when I’m actively reading) because I’m just not that into it. And yet, once I started A Darker Shade of Magic, I just couldn’t put it down.

 

I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.

 

One of the aspects that I find myself most drawn to in books is character development. And, in lieu of picking up the plot right away, V. E. Schwab spends a good portion of the first half of the book building out her characters and her worlds. Yes, worlds. You see, Kell is one of the last of the Antari, a magician who can use his blood to cast magics, including the magic to create doors between four parallel worlds. And, in all of them, a variation of London exists. Grey London is the London we know– London of 1819 as George III is descending into madness in his old age. Kell passes notes between monarchs: from Grey London to Red London, where Kell is from and magic is used (mostly) in a good way and their monarchs are benevolent. Then there is White London where magic is fading and those with the most power rule with an iron fist. This is because White London is closest to Black London, the world that fell to dark magic, and so all other worlds closed their doors to it. You must travel through the Londons in that order Grey – Red – White – Black, or vice-versa.

 

“You don’t know anything about these worlds,” he said, but the fight was bleeding out of his voice.

“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”

 

Kell travels these worlds trading messages for monarchs, but he also picked up a bit of a dangerous hobby: Smuggling. It’s illegal to pass anything between the worlds, other than the monarch messages, and yet… Kell can’t help himself. And that’s how he ends up accidentally picking up a token from Black London and meeting Lila Bard, common thief.

Here is where things get interesting and our plot really takes off.

But the world building. I just can’t let it go. There are so many little details that provide secrets to the future and the direction I expect Schwab will take this book. It’s easy to visualize and understand the differences between these Londons Kell travels between. And that’s saying something for me– I don’t think in pictures. Yet, Schwab doesn’t talk down to her reader and doesn’t sell their intelligence short, so I found that if I wasn’t paying attention, I might have missed something to identify which London we are in, or even so far as that I almost missed Grey London was our world. To build up four completely different worlds simultaneously and make it look easy? Bravo, Schwab… Bravo.

 

“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”

“Seen what?”

Her smile widened. “Everything.”

 

I’ve heard critics of this book look at A Darker Shade of Magic and say, “Yes, yes. I’ve seen this before. We have the Hero With A Secret Past and the Sexy Snarky Prince Who Isn’t As Bad As We Think and the Snape-Syndrome Badguy and the Thief Who Is Really Just Robin Hood… I get it. I’ve seen it.” And yes, you can read this book like that, if you’re a cynical humbug. But A Darker Shade of Magic is so much more than that.

Schwab takes us on a journey to ask us, “Is magic inherently good or evil? Or is a place is real because you experience it, or if a place is real because of how to perceive it? How do we determine hierarchy and power? And what is the difference between perception and rule?” For example, we get to know these worlds through the eyes of Kell, the Antari, who has never known anything other than these four Londons. He knows magic better than almost anyone, and he knows the dangers and histories of these worlds. Yet, you introduce street-savvy Lila, and suddenly his perceptions of what good and evil, safe and dangerous are completely changed. He’s been sheltered in his life as a messenger and had no idea until this moment.

It’s all about perspective.

 

Time isn’t the same for the mad or the blind.

 

Throughout this journey, we see a lot of darkness and violence. We witness a lot of desperation and sacrifice. It seems extreme upon reflection, but it all feels natural in the world Schwab has built for us readers. Plus, Lila… Lila is an incredible character. I cannot wait to see how she develops. I can’t wait to see how all our characters grow and develop over the course of these books. In fact, I have a feeling we have only begun to met our cast. Schwab has teased out characters, plot, and world-building and hooked me completely. I already know Shades of Magic will be a trilogy I will re-read for years to come.

 

“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”

“I apologize for shooting you in the leg.” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.

 

I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic when the final book in the trilogy, A Conjuring of Light, came out at the end of February. I’ve been binge reading these books, as you can imagine, and it’s been a ton of fun. I cannot wait to finish A Conjuring of Light and to post my review of both A Gathering of Shadows, book two, and the finale. Stay tuned!


What do you think?

  • Have you read any of the Shades of Magic books? What do you think of them?
  • When was the last time you read a fantasy book which gripped you from page one to the end? What was it?
  • What books have you read which captivated you through world-building?

55 Comments

  • Birdie March 21, 2017 at 10:29 am

    I just got this book for my birthday. I can’t wait to read it. She’s a popular author and I love the covers. I’m hoping I love it.

    • Jackie B March 22, 2017 at 11:57 am

      Happy belated birthday, Birdie! I hope you enjoy it too. Have you read any of her other works?

      • Birdie March 22, 2017 at 12:23 pm

        Nope, this will be my first one. And thanks!

  • Lost In A Good Book March 21, 2017 at 11:00 am

    I’m excited to start this series. I don’t think the fact that she writes about characters we’ve seen before is necessarily a bad thing. I think tropes are bad if they are handled badly. One of my favorite series (Kingkiller Chronicles by Patrick Rothfuss) is based on taking old well-worn fantasy tropes and twisting them to make them new and unexpected. She sounds like a skilled author. I can’t wait to pick up this book.

    • Jackie B March 22, 2017 at 2:37 pm

      You are so on point, Crystal. Tropes are bad if they are handled badly. Yes! In this case, I think it really works because the reader can make assumptions about the character so we can focus on world building and character development. Schwab is certainly masterful at her character creation. I hope you enjoy ADSOM when you get to it!

  • Sarah @ Reviews and Readathons March 21, 2017 at 11:04 am

    Great review! This was one of my favorite series last year. I’ve started ACOL but I’ve had some Netgalleys and such and haven’t gotten to give it the attention it deserves…plus I may be dragging my feet because I DON’T. WANT. IT. TO. END. Glad to see you love it too!

    • Jackie B March 22, 2017 at 2:39 pm

      Thank you, Sarah! I’m so glad that you have also enjoyed this series. I completely understand about dragging your feet on ACOL. I’m at about 50%, but I’ve been reading it between three other books to allow me to also drag my feet. I am getting really nervous for all our characters!

  • LairOfBooks March 21, 2017 at 1:47 pm

    Jackie! what a wonderful review! you have me sitting here contemplating a re-read myself since I have yet to crack the spine on AGOS. I realize now how many of the details I have forgotten & you have refreshed my memory. I’m beginning to see the pattern of writing she’s known for, slow & steady. I enjoy her writing & characters immensely though & don’t see myself not buying anything she writes. “I apologize for shooting you in the leg.” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.—-> the line that made me fall in love with Lila Bard! HAHA! happy reading 😉

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:27 pm

      D’aw, thanks Lilly! I strongly encourage you to get to AGOS and ACOL. I haven’t had a ton of free time in March, but I’m so glad I made time for all of these books. They are very well done. Like you said, there are tons of details, so I definitely benefited from reading them back to back quickly. What other books of Schwab’s have you read? What would you recommend I pick up next from her?

      Oh man, I <3 Delila Bard! She's such a classic Slytherin. 😉

  • Anna @MyBookishDream March 21, 2017 at 3:17 pm

    I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, it was such an amazing adventure. I adored the world that Victoria Schwab created, plus the characters were great as well. I’m really looking forward to continuing with the series, since I have only read the first book so far. Great review! 🙂

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:29 pm

      Yay! I’m so glad you loved this book. I strongly encourage you to pick up the rest of the series as well. The characters get even better. Plus, some of my favorite characters in the series are introduced in book two. Teaser! 🙂 Who is your favorite character from ADSoM?

      • Anna @MyBookishDream March 27, 2017 at 9:06 am

        I’m really exited to continue reading this series! Hopefully I’ll be picking up the second book soon. 🙂 My favourite has to be Kell, I simply adored him! Though I did love Lila as well, it took some time for her to grow on me. Who is your favourite?

        • Jackie B March 28, 2017 at 6:11 pm

          I completely agree that it took Lila a while to grow on me, but she’s definitely a favorite. At the end of the first book, Kell and Rhy were tied for favorite in my eye. Rhy is such a Hufflepuff… I can relate to him more than any other character. But my favorite character in the series isn’t introduced until book two. I can’t wait to hear what you think!

  • gargoylebruce March 21, 2017 at 8:32 pm

    I’ve wanted to read this series for ages and then recently the first book was on sale at the kindle store so I grabbed it. Haven’t got to it yet, but I’m one step closer!

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:36 pm

      Yessss. Read them! They are so good, and all of the books are out now. That’s a big thing for me. I don’t like to start series unless I have access to all the books, with few exceptions. It’s definitely strong on the wit and character games. I highly recommend.

  • YAandWine March 21, 2017 at 10:07 pm

    I’m very slowly listening to this audiobook while I catch up on my ARC reviews, but I LOVE this series, and I LOVE this book so far. The world is just so vibrant. I truly think that Schwab is just a phenomenal writer. So glad you enjoyed it. Great review!

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:37 pm

      Ooooh– How is the audiobook? Who is narrating? I really love audiobooks; sometimes they make a book I would have felt “eh” about so much more exciting. And good luck catching up on your ARC reviews. Yikes, I have to do that too… O_o

  • Resh Susan @ The Book Satchel March 21, 2017 at 10:17 pm

    I adored the book. I am glad it is a favourite of yours. Though I was super excited to read ACOL after the second book, my enthusiasm died down a bit now, mainly due to a monstrous TBR and lack of shelf space. But I would be reading it one day. I want to know how it ends with Kell and Lila

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:52 pm

      Haha– yes, the monstrous TBR is a threat to us all! I’m sorry your enthusiasm died down some. I can completely relate. That said, it’s still an awesome book. Perhaps you can pick it up after a particularly disappointing book? I’ve found that favorite series like this are great at boosting a reading slump. I look forward to hearing what you think of it when you get there. So much needs to still happen to them after AGOS! Now– relatedly, who is your favorite character?

  • AvalinahsBooks March 22, 2017 at 4:06 am

    I guess I will eventually check this series out 🙂 it’s just that everyone loves it so and I’m afraid to even check it out, lest I be totally drawn into it 😀

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:39 pm

      That’s the best reason to pick it up! The books read pretty quickly. The balance between world building, plot, and character development is strong. So, even if one aspect of that is more important to you than others, I have confidence that you’ll still enjoy it. Just tack it on to your TBR. 🙂

      What is the last series you were drawn into?

  • Books, Vertigo and Tea March 22, 2017 at 3:15 pm

    Si I picked this up on my Kindle a little wasy back and the reviews are very convincing (esp yours), but I am concerned as to whether I should attempt it right now. I am struggling so hard with YA. Do you think that it is going to sit well with me right now.. or possibly put it off for a bit?

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:57 pm

      Thanks, Danielle! This isn’t a YA book, so I definitely think you should pick it up. One of the reasons Victoria Schwab goes by V.E. Schwab in this series because she wanted to separate herself a bit from her existing YA. I think it’s great. It’s fantasy, but it’s not as dense as high fantasy. There are definitely adult themes in here, too. The characters are so on point! I have a feeling your favorite character might be one who is introduced in the second book, A Gathering of Shadows, though. That’s my prediction.

      So start reading: STAT!

      • Books, Vertigo and Tea March 27, 2017 at 11:50 am

        Oh nice! Thanks for the insight on the name vs. initials because I had not caught onto that. Very handy info and now I am pretty excited for this series!

  • Amanda @Cover2CoverMom March 23, 2017 at 8:36 pm

    Eek! I’m glad you are enjoying these books as much the second time around 🙂 Have you started ACOL yet? I’ve read about 25% thus far. I am dragging my feet a bit because I’m afraid this book is going to break my heart 🙁

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:54 pm

      I *just* finished it on Friday. I have also been dragging my feet when it came to finishing this series. But, I had a book club meeting this weekend where we discussed the series. Oh man, so in love. I cried SO MUCH in ACOL. Much more than I expected to. I have so many thoughts. Now, I just need to catch up on my reviews so I can share them. O_o March has been kicking my butt! I hope that you make it through ACOL with minimal heartache!

  • Grab the Lapels March 24, 2017 at 11:20 am

    The quotes you provided​ from Lila really make me want to read this book! And the more bloggers get into fantasy, the more I want to reread the Magic trilogy by Mercedes Lackey. It gutted me so badly I didn’t read the next trilogy, Arrows, which I’ve now owned, unread, for fifteen years.

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 10:59 pm

      Lila is a wonderful, strong, sassy, female protagonist who is obviously a Slytherin. She’s so worth it. This isn’t high fantasy, but it’s a ton of fun. I definitely recommend.

      Have you picked up Arrows yet? If not, do it! 🙂

      • Grab the Lapels March 27, 2017 at 6:38 am

        No! Ack! Have you?? Are you a Mercedes Lackey fan???

        • Jackie B March 28, 2017 at 6:12 pm

          Haha- Not yet, but I will be. I have a copy of the first book somewhere in my house, and I have friends who keep recommended that I read it ASAP. It just keeps getting buried under the book club books!

          • Grab the Lapels March 28, 2017 at 7:46 pm

            My book club actually totally changed gears as of last Sunday. The are only three of us who have showed up to the last several meetings. Two of those individuals were my husband and me, and we can just as easily talk about a book at home! We’re now going to meet to discuss what we’ve been reading individually in case it is the books we pick scaring away members.

  • LizScanlon March 24, 2017 at 11:46 am

    Brilliant review… I have this book sitting on my Kindle for a loooong time now waiting to be read… for some reason I’m not feeling it it because the blurb doesn’t give me a kick BUT I know how much everyone just LOVES this series, so I need to drop the crap and just read this book! 😀 hahaha… loved your review and you picked out some great quotes!

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 11:01 pm

      I completely understand how the blurb might not catch your eye. If you like wit, character development, and world-building, you’ll enjoy this series. It’s not high fantasy, so it would be a bit different than some of the fantasy you’ve been reading lately. I think you would *adore* Delilah Bard’s character. She’s a sassy Slytherin. 🙂

  • morethangeekylove March 25, 2017 at 12:36 am

    I am currently reading it and I should have done that long time ago actually… But oh well time does not in my favour recently. Anyhow the book so far is amazing and I totally agree with you! I cannot put it down it’s so captivating and engaging. This is the first book of V.E. Schwab I am reading and I already love her writing style and cannot wait to read the rest of her books :))
    Awesome review as always!

    • Jackie B March 26, 2017 at 11:04 pm

      Thanks, Lin! Time tends to make fools of us all when it comes to popular books and our TBRs. I’m glad you are so engaged. I haven’t read any of Schwab’s other works either. I don’t know where to even start. I’m so in love with these books, I’m a bit anxious that anything I read after this will be a disappointment. O_o C’est la vie! I hope you continue the series and love the rest as well. Do you have a favorite character?

  • morethangeekylove March 27, 2017 at 5:59 pm

    True that! Time is always slipping away and you can’t help it… And yes I totally understand that feeling it’s really overwhelming. As for my fav character yes I guess I have two actually I love Kel and Rhy so far. But I will share more details when I finish the book haha

    • Jackie B March 29, 2017 at 1:47 pm

      Yes! Rhy is possibly my favorite character in the series. He is tied with a character you’ll meet in the second book, Alucard Emery. I hope you enjoy the books enough to keep reading!

  • Laila@BigReadingLife March 27, 2017 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve had this sitting in my bookshelf for a year now and I’ve not yet read it! I really need to! Ugh… TOO MANY BOOKS!

    • Jackie B March 29, 2017 at 1:50 pm

      I completely understand that. There are so many books I’ve had waiting for me… I love the idea of making a prioritized list of all the books to read, but I’m such a mood-based reader (as we have discussed) that I never stick to a reading schedule. I have to be in the right mood for the book!

      I know you’ll get to this series eventually. They are so worth it.

  • Jasmine March 28, 2017 at 9:08 am

    I’m glad to know you love this book and this series. I have been wanting to read this series since last year. I do love books that you couldn’t put down 🙂 I love that last quote hahaha I’m super excited that you love the world building. Love your review Jackie! I might just wait until all the books to come out and binge reading it like you 🙂

    • Jackie B March 29, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      I love binge reading series. 🙂 I’ve read all three of the books now, but I haven’t sat down to write the reviews yet. I’ll get there. O_o Baby steps, right? I look forward to hearing what you think of this series someday, Jasmine!

      • Jasmine March 29, 2017 at 3:08 pm

        Wow.. hard to put down huh? I should get to reading it soon then hehe

  • theorangutanlibrarian March 28, 2017 at 7:01 pm

    Awesome review! I love these books!! 🙂

    • Jackie B March 29, 2017 at 1:53 pm

      Thanks! Have you read them all? Do you have a favorite of the three, or at least a favorite character?

      • theorangutanlibrarian March 30, 2017 at 4:03 pm

        You’re welcome! I’m gonna be boring and say the first one, cos while I liked how she built on everything as the series went on, I just thought the first one was perfect, magical and made me fall in love with the series

        • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:55 pm

          That’s not boring at all! I think A Darker Shade of Magic is the best at hooking the reader from the get go. The books all have cliffhangers which perpetuate the need to keep reading, but I feel AGOS and ACOL don’t hook the reader from the beginning as strongly. That said, they are all still great books!

          I can’t wait to post my reviews for the other books and see what thoughts everyone has on them as a complete series.

          • theorangutanlibrarian April 3, 2017 at 8:38 pm

            Ah that’s very true- and I agree with you- I found them both slower at the start (particularly AGOS, though that picked up in a super dramatic way by the end and I of course loved it overall). Ahh so excited to read them!!

            • Jackie B April 4, 2017 at 4:32 pm

              Ohmygosh! The ending of AGOS! I finished it at 2am, but immediately picked up ACOL. Mistakes were made for a Tuesday night. O_o

  • Shouni March 30, 2017 at 11:03 pm

    I mostly just skimmed the review because I don’t like reading reviews of books before I read the book (is that weird?) but it sounds like the book has lived up to your expectation and then some. I’m so excited to read this!

    • Jackie B April 3, 2017 at 1:52 pm

      That’s not weird at all! I do the same thing if I know I’ll be reading that book in the near future. I don’t want to go in with any preconceived notions. If it will be a few months before I read a book, however, I’ll read the review. My brain can’t hold onto those ideas for too long!

      I hope that you really enjoy this series when you get to it. I look forward to hearing your thoughts, Shouni!

      • Shouni April 5, 2017 at 8:00 pm

        Aww thanks! I hope so too! My expectations are really high right now but I do tend to enjoy hyped books so we’ll see.

        • Jackie B April 6, 2017 at 10:48 am

          That’s great! I struggle with hyped books, honestly. My thoughts going into it are always sooo high I am inevitably disappointed. Shame. This is why I wait. Perhaps waiting on these will be good for you, too. 😉

  • Chiara @ Books for a Delicate Eternity May 14, 2017 at 9:06 pm

    I only just finished A Conjuring of Light the other day and I LOVED IT. It was definitely my favourite of the series, which is quite a feat because only one other series finale has been my favourite out of a series (and that is Champion by Marie Lu. Perfection).

    I binge read this entire series from start to finish, and I’m so glad I waited! I loved not forgetting anything, and to see how everything unfolded page after page.

    I really feel like Schwab has created one of the best fantasies I’ve ever read. It wasn’t too complicated or too simple, which I think is amazing. I wanted to go back to each book every time I stepped away from them.

    I know I will definitely be re-reading this series again. And I can’t wait!

    • Jackie B May 15, 2017 at 4:07 pm

      I haven’t read anything written by Marie Lu– apparently, I need to read Champion? I’ve added the series to my TBR. 🙂 Thanks for the rec!

      I *LOVE* binge reading series! I only sorta binge read this series since I read A Darker Shade of Magic for a book club. But I re-read it when ACOL came out along with, obviously, AGOS. I completely agree that Schwab’s fantasy world was really well balanced; not too simple and not too complex. That’s a challenge with fantasy!

      I will certainly miss this world and these characters. Perhaps a re-read is in order sooner rather than later, hm?

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