Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

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.

I feel like I’ve been waiting to read this book forever. ADSOM came out in February, but I’ve been making grabby hands since Ms. Schwab first mentioned her work in progress (then dubbed “Pirates, Thieves, and Sadist Kings”) on Twitter. Everyone I follow seemed to love it, so the longer I had to wait for my library hold to come in, the more nervous I became. What if I was the black sheep?

Guys. I am so not the black sheep. THIS BOOK ROCKS.

I’m a white sheep, hooray!

Okay, fast and dirty rundown: Once upon a time there were four magical worlds that touched, all in a city called London. One of the Londons, Black London, became overrun with dangerous magic, so the other three Londons locked their “doors” and disconnected from Black London. Now there are only three Londons, and only blood magicians, called Travelers or Antari, can pass between the worlds, and only to carry correspondence from one throne to another. White London, ruled by the vicious twins Astrid and Athos Dane, is in the cruel and hungry kingdom of Makt and is served by the Antari Holland. Red London (in the kingdom of Arnes) is bountiful in magic and prosperity, is ruled by King Maxim and Queen Emira, and is served by the Antari Kell. And Grey London is our London of Great Britain, currently under mad King George and Prince Regent George in 1819 A.D. They have no magic, but they do have an exceptionally clever thief named Lila.

Guys, the world-building is sooooooo good. The author does a great job of keeping the three Londons distinct from one another in ways that make sense. Each world has its own customs, culture, language, problems, and even its own smell. Not only are the worlds distinct, but they’re also individually really cool. There are magic coats (that reminded me of Howl’s door, actually), fixed points that reappear in all of the worlds, and magic. Lots of magic. Magic that requires blood and words and power.

Even better than the world-building, though, are the characters. I love Kell. Boy’s got swagger like nobody’s business, and he’s powerful, smart, and charming. Of course, he’s also got the hidden angst thing going on that I love, and his big ol’ heart for his brother Rhy is just… too precious for words. Rhy, though not in the story as much as the others, is also wonderful. He fills one of my favorite character roles, that of the frivolous, light-hearted jokester with the secret noble streak. As silly and immature as the prince can be, he also desperately wants to be a good king someday. The villains—Astrid, Athos, and their puppet, Holland—are chilling, with Holland filling the role of the chilling-yet-sympathetic lesser villain. Astrid and Athos literally walk across the bones of their victims every day. They’re cruel, cold, and cunning and nigh on unstoppable. It’s delightful. Even the minor characters were sympathetic. Beloc is a personal favorite of mine, and I cared possibly more than I should have about Rhy’s private guards, Gen and Parrish. Though honestly,

Click to see SPOILER

But the best character, hands down, is Lila Bard. She is not a nice little orphan. In Grey London, Lila makes her living by robbing people while dressed as a gentleman and isn’t afraid to kill. In her own words, she’d choose wrong over right any day if wrong means staying alive. This girl has dreams. Though “merely” a thief, she longs to captain her own pirate ship, which is an ambition I can certainly endorse. And though Lila never loses her edge for a second, she does change some as she gets mixed up with Kell. She learns to trust and to think beyond herself, all while outfitted in some of the coolest fictional clothes I’ve ever dared to envy. I do love proper character growth. Also, may I just say that while I totally guessed pieces of the puzzle that is Lila (CAN’T SLIP NOTHIN’ BY THIS GIRL, SCHWAB), the setup is so subtly constructed that I felt pleased with myself for being clever rather than irritated at the story for being guessable.

I wish I could be eloquent enough to explain how much I enjoyed this story. I can’t. I’ll let Victoria Schwab handle the responsibility of wording and I’ll content myself with wishing I could get Lila’s pirate outfit while I wait for the sequel.

Favorite Non-Spoilery Quotes:

The rich strutted around, assuming they’d be safe, so long as they stayed in the good parts of town. But Lila knew there were no good parts. Only smart parts and stupid parts, and she was quick enough to know which one to play.

Are you afraid of dying? Holland had asked him in the alley. And Kell was. Had always been, ever since he could remember. He feared not living, feared ceasing to exist. Lila’s world may believe in Heaven and Hell, but his believed in dust. He was taught early that magic reclaiemd magic, and earth reclaimed earth, the two dividing when the body died, the person they had combined to be simply forfeit, lost. Nothing lated. Nothing remained.

“I thought you said–”

“I said Rhy forgave them. I never said I did.”

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

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

Points Added For: Rhy, Kell, Lila, Holland, the twins, Beloc, the world-building, Kell’s cloak, Lila’s twist, clever writing.

Points Subtracted For: I reeeeeally don’t think the attempted rape was necessary. Not even a little.

Good For Fans Of: Pirates, thieves, sadist kings, alternate dimensions, magic, trickery, bromance.

Notes For Parents: Language, blood, torture, drinking, murder, kissing, attempted rape.

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3 Responses to Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

  1. Alexa S. June 22, 2015 at 12:01 pm #

    Ooh! Your review makes A Darker Shade of Magic sound so intensely wonderful and creative, and I’m really, really curious about it. I don’t know when I’ll be getting to it (since I do want to read her other stuff before it), but I’m so glad you enjoyed it!
    Alexa S. recently posted…It Runs in the Family || Love in the Time of Dystopian Gene SplicingMy Profile

    • Shae June 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

      Rrrrrreeeeeeeeeeeeeead iiiiiiiiit.

  2. Zoey @ Uncreatively Zoey June 22, 2015 at 7:38 pm #

    YES. LILA BARD 100%. I WILL BE HER CHAMPION FOR THE REST OF MY LIFE. I’m so in love. And Astrid and Athos were the perfect psychotic villains for me. I totally agree with everything you said in this review! I was very recently the black sheep for a HUGE book and it’s always such a relief not to be.
    Zoey @ Uncreatively Zoey recently posted…The Sunday Post {11}: Still On The Hunt!My Profile

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