(This is probably the 207475th review you’ve seen of this book but that’s ok).
A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Published: February 27th 2015
Publisher: Titan Books
Goodreads Rating: 4.04/5
My Rating: 4/5
*Avoid the quotes if you really don’t want ANYTHING revealed because they’re a little spoiler-y, otherwise you are safe, friend. You are safe. They make me laugh though, so if you want to maybe giggle, read on*
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.
After turning down reading V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, I finally decided to broaden my horizon and delve into her work. I won’t lie, it was pretty good. And YES YES, I know, I should have read it earlier. What can I say? I’m a procrastinator.
Anyways, I guess I should start off by telling you I really do recommend this book. In fact, if you’re like me and choose books based off the cover* and don’t like this cover**, still go ahead and read this book.
**Confession: I really don’t like the covers and that’s why I didn’t read this series until now
Quick reasons why you should read it (if you haven’t):
- The plot was pretty awesome
- Alternate universes
- PIRATES, MAGIC, ADVENTURE!
- Perfect dialogue that ISN’T awkward and weird.
The plot was rich and well thought out. Instead of a single world, A Darker Shade of Magic takes place throughout multiple London’s. Kell, our main character, describes each London as having a color – grey, red, white, and black – as a way to separate them*. Grey London is our version of London and is run by King George, completely bare of magic and extremely dull. Red London is a place where magic exists and is ruled by the Maresh family, this is where Kell is from. White London is a place of tyranny and violence, where civilians fight and kill for power over magic. The last London, Black London, fell.
*This is literally the easiest way to remember, because I was kind of confused at first as to what was what
“You don’t know anything about these worlds,” [Kell] 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.”
I really loved the characters. Instead of doing my typical BLAH BLAH *this is them*, I decided to broaden my sweet horizons and also show you how I pictured each character (because BAES). Schwab did an excellent job not making each character super tacky and her dialogue was on point.
Delilah Bard is now one of my favorite female characters because she isn’t one of those WOE-IS-ME weak characters*. Lila is hard. Lila is a fighter. Lila is a thief. Lila is a woman who relies on herself and survives. Lila seeks a great adventure in Grey London, and finds it with the help of Kell. She’s also pretty hilarious. She’s also gender fluid (!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) and chooses to dress in male clothes and have cropped hair.
*thank freaking God
She poked at the skin under her eyes, tugged at her cheeks, ran a finger along her lips. It had been a long time since anyone had called her pretty.
Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well. And lord knew she didn’t envy the ladies with their cinched corsets and abundant skirts, their falsetto laughs and the ridiculous way they used them. The way they swooned and leaned on men, feigning weakness to save their strength.
Why anyone would pretend to be weak was beyond her.
Kell Maresh is our other MC who belongs to Red London and is an Antari, meaning he can travel between the London’s. He is responsible for delivering messages between all the royalty, and we get a great insight as to how he does this in the beginning of the book*. In each world he is considered royalty but seems to think of himself as an outsider in the Maresh family. Regardless of his insecurity, he loves his family and will do anything for them.
*Fun fact: At first, I actually envisioned Kell as a younger version of Willy Wonka because of his magical coat of coats in coats.
**I also learned from Schwab’s wiki page on him that he’s also a cat person and would be sorted into Gryffindor. SO FITTING. Totally makes me love him even more.
Rhy Maresh isn’t necessarily a main character but we see bits and pieces of him throughout the storyline. He is the Prince of Red London and also Kell’s brother. He’s a womanizer and acts as a sort of comic relief. He’s a looker, hence the Brazilian hunk.
“I don’t like the way the guards are looking at me,” she said before glancing up and seeing the prince’s gold eyes on her. “I’m sorry,” she added. “I didn’t mean to intrude.”
“Then what did you mean to do?” challenged Kell.
Rhy held up his hand. “You are surely not an intrusion,” he said, pushing himself up in the bed. “Though I fear you’ve met me rather out of my usual state of grace. Do you have a name?”
“Delilah Bard,” she said. “We’ve met before. And you looked worse.”
Rhy laughed silently. “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.”
Rhy broke into his perfect smile.
*MY SHIP: RHY AND LILA. AKA RHYLA. TELL ME YOU SHIP THEM BECAUSE EEEEEEE.
There is a fluttering of romance, barely a tickle, barely a whisper. And I, the romance loving queen, have to say that it was PERFECTLY FINE. IF YOU’RE READING THIS AND YOU JUST GOT TURNED AWAY BY THIS COME BACK.
Why should I? – says you
WELL, the main focus of this storyline is the adventure and romance would have really dampened everything. Even though our two main characters were male and female, they weren’t forced into a weirdly awkward couple-thing you would see in a typical YA book. Delilah legitimately doesn’t need no man, and Kell was just… Kell. Not every hero and heroine needs a significant other to accomplish something, and not every man and woman in REAL LIFE needs someone to complete them. Characters can be perfectly capable without a significant other, and this storyline proves just that.
Schwab’s comment on Lila: “Lila is not a sidekick, she’s the hero of her own story. She’s not a love interest, and she’s not a plot device. Her purpose isn’t just to please the reader or Kell, it’s to be true to herself, and that self happens to be a total self-serving badass.“
I keep saying this, but I LOVED the dialogue! This may seem pretty harsh, but some authors who write YA create pretty cringeworthy dialogue. It’s almost as if they were trying too hard to relate to us* younger folk and don’t realize how tacky it comes off. Schwab seems to grasp the idea that young people can be snarky, intelligent, diverse, well versed, and interesting.
*LOL I’m 23 but hey, young at heart.
WARNING WARNING SPOILER QUOTE BELOW BUT IT’S SO DAMN FUNNY
“How did you know?” she asked, looking down at the rubble of the queen. “How did you know she wasn’t me?”
Well managed an exhausted smile. “Because she said please.”
Lila stared at him, aghast. “Is that a joke?”
Kell shrugged slightly. It took a lot of effort. “I just knew,” he said.
“You just knew,” she echoed
So, my final thoughts? I really enjoyed it. It wasn’t a 5/5, but a 4/5. I was a little “meh” with the actual world building because I wanted to get into the good stuff. I will absolutely be continuing on with the series and I hope you pick it up.
If you’ve read the book, how’d you like it? Do you ship anyone? How’d you like my choices for the characters, or did you envision other people as a better fit? I’m trying to open up my reviewing style (because god damn stagnant reviews bore me, and they probably bore you too).