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

Posted March 9, 2015 by Stormy in Books / 10 Comments

A Darker Shade of Magic

 by V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

 Original Publication Date: February 24, 2015
Length: 4oo pages
Publisher: Tor

Obtained Via: Bought
#1 in A Darker Shade of Magic
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 Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby 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 another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

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Oh book, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I have been eagerly anticipating A Darker Shade of Magic for over a year now. However, as the great reviews started rolling in and the release date got closer and closer, a hint of nervousness mingled with my excitement. I had such HIGH expectations for this book–how could it ever meet them? And then my friends started reading and reviewing, and every review was phenomenal. All of my Goodreads friends rated this book 5 stars except one–and that person gave it 4. High expectations indeed, but I shouldn’t have worried, because I adored, loved, enjoyed, delighted in(insert more synonyms here) A Darker Shade of Magic.

Though, to be fair, A Darker Shade of Magic didn’t exactly live up to my expectations. Quality-wise, it surpassed them, but the story I read was different than the story I was expecting. I thought A Darker Shade of Magic would be a sweeping, fast-paced adventure story. And yes, it was epic in that it involved several worlds and it was an adventure story, but it was also more than that and the pacing wasn’t as fast as I was expecting–which isn’t to say it was a slow book. It wasn’t. But it was less of a race to finish and more of a pleasant jog, and I think I liked it better that way. I immersed myself in this bizarre story of three(with hints of a fourth) Londons. I got to admire the view.

The worlds of A Darker Shade of Magic were just incredible. I loved every second spent in every single one. Each of the three Londons were fabulously built and the book answered the skeptical questions I had going in–how could these three worlds, all so different, have the same Londons? They don’t–each London is separate and distinct, and their personalities roll off the page because yes, each setting did seem to have its own characteristics. I love books where the settings become another character in and of itself, so getting to explore these Londons was a wonderful adventure. Red London was so vibrant with magic. White London chilled my blood. Grey London was thick with normalcy–until there were sparks.

As far as characters go, here’s what I want to say:

Kell, marry me.
Lila, marry me.
Rhy, marry me.
Athos and Astrid, stay away from me.

In all seriousness, the characters totally make A Darker Shade of Magic. As fun as these three Londons are, they’d be nothing without these characters. I was afraid they would become fantasy stereotypes, but that was skillfully avoided. All these characters were so much deeper than they appeared on the surface, and Kell and Lila made a heck of a team. The dialogue, banter, burgeoning companionship–it was all done SO. WELL. The threads between the characters were so exciting to explore, and above all, fun. A Darker Shade of Magic is indeed dark, yes–but it’s also fun and spunky in a way that felt so refreshing. Even when one of the villains was talking about walking upon the bones of her adversaries for her tea, I kept delighting in the book.

I knew going into A Darker Shade of Magic that Kell and Lila would share a lot of page-time, so their interactions didn’t surprise me, as delightful as that was. What was surprising is just how much I enjoyed Athos and Astrid, the main villains of the book. Siblings, Athos and Astrid rule the throne in White London after fighting and slaughtering their way to the top.

I know many readers like when villains aren’t completely villainous and have tragic back stories or something of that sort, but there’s something that is just so satisfying when you have a villain who knows how evil they are in and delights in it. Athos and Astrid are those villains. They’re not stock characters–there’s depth there–but their evilness knows no bounds. And I loved it. New favorite bookish villains for sure.

The other relationship dynamic I feel the need to highlight is the bromance between Kell and Rhy. First, I have to say that it’s astounding how much depth Rhy was given considering he isn’t actually on the page that often in A Darker Shade of Magic. At first, Rhy seems like just your average charming, slightly roguish prince, but he’s much more. His interactions with Kell were gold.

I feel like my review could just go on & on with praise for this book, so I’ll try to wrap it up soon. All I have to say is that every scene, every word was so necessary to the plot. It’s a tightly crafted book and I absolutely lost myself in the story. There were so many great things–like Kell’s magic coat, which has more than two sides(it’s bigger on the inside!), the way the magic system was set up, just everything, and I think it’s quite clear from my (hopefully coherent) praise that this book is currently my favorite book of 2015. There are many months to go, of course, but it’ll take quite a bit to knock A Darker Shade of Magic off its throne.

A Darker Shade of Magic had a lot to prove, but I’d give this book all the stars in every London. It made fantasy fun for me again(which is really quite the feat, because this book is quite dark). A new favorite.

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I don’t have the words to express how much I loved A Darker Shade of Magic. The characters, the setting, the villains–every bit was flawless.  5/5 cupcakes.

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5 Stars

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10 responses to “Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

  1. I’ve been on the fence about reading this one because of the hype… I am so often let down by the hyped books. I dunno, though, your review has got me excited and maybe I will actually try it… in fact I just put myself on the library hold list!

  2. Maraia

    Great review. I agree with you that the pacing wasn’t what I expecting but that it improved rather than detracted from my enjoyment of it. When I’m reading a highly anticipated novel, I usually feel pressure to race through it as quickly as I can. ADSOM let me take my time and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. As you said, it’s all about the characters, and they are fantastic. Victoria Schwab sure knows how to write them!

    • Stormy

      Yeah, that’s exactly it–I thought I would have to race through & just GULP it down. I read it quickly still, but I read it a lot slower than I normally read such anticipated release, and it was different, but even more enjoyable because of that.

  3. I’m so glad you loved this one. It was so worth the hype that’s for sure. And I totally agree about the villains. I like a tragic backstory and a dubious villain but there is really nothing better than a devious villain that makes you love to hate them. Astrid and Athos Dane are seriously diabolical and it was fantastic! Great review!

    • Stormy

      I haven’t read any of her YA books(the premises just don’t appeal to me as much as her adult books do!), but I really liked Vicious and LOVED this one.

  4. Hi there and good morning,

    this book has been on my wishlist for quite some time and since I only read positive reviews (thank you for your very passionate one 😉 yet, I think that it won’t sit there much longer.

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