A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse 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.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
Let me start by saying that not only was I very excited to read this book, I was convinced I was going to be in love with it. I wouldn’t say it was hyped up, but everyone loves it and everyone loves Schwab, and it is just in every way my thing, so I was expecting magic.
A Darker Shade of Magic was a little lackluster for me. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t really connect with the book or the characters.
For one thing, I didn’t really like Kell. He is a fairly one-dimensional character, and he didn’t grow much throughout the novel. His vanity was off-putting since he didn’t have the arrogance to go with it really, which made him feel kind of wishy-washy. And he came off a little whiny. Not cool.
I almost liked Lila, but then I didn’t. While she more than compensated for Kell’s lack of swagger, it just came off as immature and childish on her. Maybe it was because she wanted to be a pirate. I mean, what is she, eight? (To be fair, I probably felt this way because I recently finished Beauty Queens, which featured a girl who wanted to be a pirate back when she was eight.) I think Lila was supposed to be a bad-ass, and I rather loved that she preferred dressing in men’s clothes, but I just wasn’t feeling it.
Now, I loved the four Londons. The world building in A Darker Shade of Magic was VERY well done, if not sometimes excessive. Hey, you’ll never hear me complaining about excessive world building! The four Londons really hearkened back to His Dark Materials by Phillip Pullman, but I think only four worlds is, in a way, more interesting than infinite choices.
I also enjoyed the magic lore. I’ve always been very interested in elemental magic, but I’ve never seen it especially well done the way it was here. My only complaint with the magic was that there wasn’t more of it. Schwab did such a great job explaining it and how it works, and introducing it, then we barely saw any. Only one little scene where Prince Rye is getting tutored. I WANT MORE.
Before I scare you away, there was plenty of magic. Oh yes. But not the nice, elemental magic. Most of the magic was of a darker sort. Hence the title. A dangerous kind.
The ending. Kind of anti-climactic. Didn’t love it.
So I’m a little disappointed, but I still very much enjoyed this book and will probably read the rest of the series. I’m not just going to run out and get them immediately or anything.