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

March 9, 2015 4 stars, Book Review 26 ★★★★

Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. SchwabA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Published by Tor Books on February 24, 2015
Genres: Adult SFF, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon

*This book was provided by the Publisher for review. No compensation was provided and all opinions are strictly my own.

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.


A Darker Shade of Magic delivers a fast paced adventure that spans four parallel Londons (not alternates because while the geography is the same no person exists in both worlds). The two main characters are from such different backgrounds that I couldn’t help but get drawn in. There is magic, royalty, cutthroats and cut-purses, evil rulers, dark insidious magic, a coat that is many coats, a would be pirate, a smuggler and oh so much more. Yes, yes I know sounds like a great package doesn’t it? It totally is. Having now read two books by V.E. Schwab, her books have become a must read for me. The reading experiences are so smooth and easy to get caught up in that the pages literally fly by.

A lowdown on the Londons, because one London isn’t enough!

Grey London (smells of smoke, and is magic-less)
White London (smells of blood and it has magic but is a starving and Esther depraved world)
Red London (smells of flowers and has healthy magic)
Black London is sealed off (magic ran rampant here years ago devouring people so it was closed off as well as all the doors between the worlds were sealed so that only Antari magic users can move between the worlds)

The likeliest of an unlikely pair

Kell – One of the two main characters, Kell is a traveler, an “Antari,” the only type of magic user that can travel between the alternate worlds. Not only is Antari blood special but these travelers can use all the different types of magic equally. Kell comes from Red London and was adopted by the royal family at the age of 5, cannot remember anything before coming to the palace and part of his duties as an Antari is to travel between the worlds keeping the royalty of each world in contact with one another.

– Kell is a well written “good guy” character but with a tendency towards passive aggressive rebellion. Like any protagonist he has some faults that serve to make him more interesting. I admit I have a hard time picturing him other then his peculiar mismatched eyes, one of them being solid black and a hallmark of what he is. But I like to imagine him being roguishly handsome.

– So he has issues, but who doesn’t have issues? His though involve a bit of a complex he has about his adoptive family and the fact that he feels like property rather then a family member except to his brother. Maybe that causes him to lash out a bit? You’d have to judge for yourself. He’s a character that I think plenty of us could relate to. Even if you have it good you might not be satisfied. Because he certainly doesn’t seem to be.

– I know most people won’t care about his age but I determined he is definitely 21. The book didn’t specifically say that, but Kell states he’s a year older then his brother Rhy who is celebrating his 20th birthday in Royal fashion the week Kell finds himself in all kinds of trouble. I just like knowing ages because it gives me a better mental picture of the characters as well as helps make things more real for me based on their actions and behavior. His age certainly fit.

Lila – A thief, and somewhat self styled master of disguise. She is determined to get out of London and see the world, as a pirate no less. She is a resident of Grey London and while she is a theif with super sticky fingers she definitely has some morals. She doesn’t like charity and keeps a mental tally of debts she means to repay people who have helped her.

– Lila’s age I was never able to pin down exactly other then a observation she makes to herself about Kell not being more then “a few years older then herself.” So I’m guessing she is at least 18 or 19.

– There are so many times Lila displays such a strength of character that causes me to love her. She was absolutely my favorite character. Indeed I think she frequently steals the show from Kell.

“You have a house if not a home,” , she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love. Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing.” – pg 235

– She’s one street smart cookie and while the magic of the black stone fascinates her and she believes at first that she’s in luck, childishly creating things, she quickly realizes it is a tricky sly magic that is trying to use her instead.

There can’t be only one!

Well of course there isn’t only ONE Antari – there are two. The other is a pale brooding fellow, Holland. Because lets face it, everything that comes from White London is pale, washed out and creepy as hell and that is exactly what this guy Holland is. I wish we could have seen a bit more of him because I tell you I really enjoyed the parts he had to play. He seems like a deliciously tortured character that you want to curse and hug at the same time. And I do so love a good villain that might not be all the villain that he seems…or is he?

A Darker Shade of Magic introduces readers to a fascinating set of worlds that we will hopefully be able to revisit and see even more compelling stories and characters from in future books. While there is a single conspiracy type plot that moves this book forward I felt there were plenty of set up elements included to provide for the upcoming books. I absolutely look forward to reading more from this world.

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Tabitha (Pabkins)

When I'm in the zone I can flip book pages faster than the eye can see - screaming "More Input!" I'm a book, yarn, & art supply hoarding goblin who loves to draw, make toys and craft all sorts of creepy cute things. My current habit is to listen to audio books while I'm arting it up!
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26 Responses to “Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab”

  1. kim { Book Swoon }

    This was such a fantastic read for me and my first book by Victoria Schwab as well! Kell and Lila were great characters, and Lila could easily steal the show like you mentioned. I hope to see more of Black London in the next installment and of course Kell and his many coats and Lila take on some new villains!
    Great review Tabitha 🙂
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  2. Cassi @ My Thoughts Literally

    I seriously loved this book. The characters were fantastic. I loved Kell and especially Lila but Rhy was also amazing, and Holland, and the Danes. They were all complex, realistic, and likable. Victoria definitely knows how to write some amazing characters. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, I haven’t stopped thinking about all my theories about what it all means and what will happen since I finished. Great review!
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  3. Anya

    Yes! Of course I completely agree haha. I think I figured out why I thought these two characters were younger: I’m old now D: I’m finally to the point where I’m older than characters in adult novels sometimes and it feels weird and like it must be YA if that is the case, haha!
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  4. Valerie

    Hahahha I’m still gonna comment on this even though you may never see this. BUT IS IT JUST ME, or was I the only one that imagined Lila and Kell to be like kids? I don’t know why. Did you see the cover for the second book? I AM EXCITED even though it’s gonna come out in a year.
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