I’ve been putting this series off for years, terrified that it wouldn’t live up to the hype for me (and my word does this series get a lot of hype). I need to stop being such a wimp with super popular books, because yet again, I’ve found one that is worthy of all the attention! This is definitely turning into a running theme.
A Darker Shade Of Magic by V.E. Schwab
(Shades Of Magic #1)
Hardcover | 415 pages | Purchased
Kell is one of the last Antari – magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered, Grey London, without magic and ruled by mad King George III, and White London, a city slowly being drained through magical war, down to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London… but no one speaks of that.
Officially, Kell acts as the ambassador and messenger between Londons, in service of the Maresh Empire. Unofficially, he’s also a smuggler, a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences – as proved when he stumbles into a setup with a forbidden token from Black London.
Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cutpurse 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.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive…
This book is slow, I’m not going to lie. It’s very much focused on character development and world building, and while that’s not usually my cup of tea, V.E. Schwab’s writing is just so beautiful that I didn’t care about the pacing. Much like with Vicious, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know these characters, and the creative, unique world(s) were definitely a great bonus!
Kell himself is such a fascinating character. As as Antari, he has the ability to travel between parallel Londons, which in and of itself is interesting as hell. But I was more curious about where he came from and why the magic chose him. Raised by the Red throne since he was 5-years-old, they’ve always treated him with warmth, if not love, and for all intents and purposes, Prince Rhy is his brother. But where did he come from? I have a feeling it’s going to be important later, but as of right now, the curiosity is killing me.
As much as I love Kell, however, Lila Bard is by far my favourite character. Bored with life, Lila is desperate to have an adventure. And who better to have an adventure with than someone who can travel between parallel worlds?
“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Lila and Kell’s first meeting included theft and assault, and ended with Kell tied to a bed. While it’s not as kinky as it sounds, their introduction was fantastic, and I knew I was in for a wild ride with these two. When Lila saves Kell’s life, the two strike up an unlikely friendship, and that when the book started to get real good. Hunted across worlds, Kell needs to return the stone to Black London, even at the cost of his own freedom. But something in Lila won’t let him do it on his own. She fears that he won’t succeed alone, and more than just her life is at stake if the power remains unchecked. Their relationship never moves past friendship – at least in this book – but that was more than enough for me (for now). These two make a formidable team, and I can’t wait to see what happens next!
The world(s) that Schwab has created in this book are so unique. With King George III being on the throne, I have to presume that this book is set in the early 1800s, which is fascinating in itself. But Schwab doesn’t focus on the time period. Instead, she’s created four parallel Londons that each have their own history and their own magic (or a lack of magic in Grey Londons case). It’s such a unique concept and I loved everything about it.
“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London.”
The magic system is another intriguing aspect of this book, specifically Antari magic, though I do wish we’d seen more “normal” magic, too. Though there are plenty of secondary perspectives throughout the book, we only ever really see Kell and Holland’s magic, as well as that from the forbidden Black London token. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the magic we got, but I just wish there had been a little more variety.
This is only my second V.E. Schwab book, but I’m coming to the conclusion that her writing style is a beautiful slow burn, filled with world building and character development, rather than being action packed and fast paced from the get-go. Regardless, there’s something so magical about her writing that the pacing never feels off. She’s truly a wonderful author, and I’m so pissed at myself for staying away from the hype for so long!