A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

darker-shade-magic-schwabA Darker Shade of Magic (A Darker Shade of Magic #1) by V. E. Schwab, published in February 2015 by Titan Books (the US version by Tor Books).

Goodreads. Author. Twitter. Amazon. Barnes & Noble.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: historical fantasy?

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. (Goodreads)


My rating: 5/5.

Oof. I’ve been sitting on this book for a month, trying to get my thoughts together to write the review. Before I read it, I avoided all of the reviews for fear of spoilers and now I don’t have anybody to discuss it with (my husband’s currently reading it and I keep badgering him with: What’s happening now? Where in the book are you? Are you liking it so far?). Anyway, I hope you’ve read it or you’re planning on reading it soon because I want to have a conversation that would, preferably, sound something like this: Did you like it? – YES! OMG! SO GOOD! – I *know*, right? – *squeal of excitement*. Huh. I seem to be doing pretty well, talking to myself here…

ANYWAY. I loved A Darker Shade of Magic. I adore Victoria Schwab’s books (see my reviews of The Archived and Vicious and come back on Monday for the new Author Addiction!) and as much as I was afraid that the hype surrounding this one would spoil the experience for me, my doubts were immediately squished once I started on the story.

First of all, I have to sing praise to Schwab’s worldbuilding. I read a lot of fantasy and it’s not often that I find such effortless, uncluttered worlds and magic systems. Here, things make sense without massive infodumps, she eases you into the story and the world with subtle nudges and before you know it, you’re hooked. In A Darker Shade of Magic, the setting is divided between three Londons (though a fourth one exists), each with its own level of magic. Grey London is the one we know from our history books (approximately), drab and unmagical, Red London is the healthy one, with magic flowing free and strong, White London is a world where magic turned sour, corrupting people, and Black London is the destroyed world in which everything burned because of magic. It is the reason the doors between the worlds were shut.

Then there are the characters. Ooooohhhhh! I lovelovelove Lila and Kell. For entirely different reasons but I love them nonetheless. I love Schwab for not making romance a primary plot in this novel. I adore Lila for being stubborn and proud and scared as hell all at the same time. I want to hug Kell for being part of a family and yet alone, for trying to do the right thing despite the fact that he’s dying to break free of his obligations. And those are just the two main characters. The entire supporting cast is gorgeously weird and as always with Schwab, you never get the feeling that these characters are just cardboard figures but real, flesh-and-blood-(and-bone) people. I also like the fact that there aren’t a ton of these characters but that Schwab keeps things simple.

I don’t want to get into the plot too much for fear of spoilers (you’ve got the Goodreads synopsis and I really hate spoilers and don’t want to ruin the pleasure of reading this book for you, you’re welcome) but I’m a big fan of series that have sort of rounded-out parts. What I mean is that this plotline seems to be finished but there’s enough there to make me want to read the second book (think The Lies of Locke Lamora – in the terms of roundedness of plot, not the story).

I’ve been stalking following Schwab on Twitter and I saw that she’s currently editing ADSOM #2 and I can’t tell you how happy I am that she’s a fast writer because I need another fix of this story SOON. I can’t recommend her books enough so if you haven’t tried them yet, do.


Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? How about Vicious or The Archived

What did you think?

Do you prefer your worldbuilding on the subtle or the epic side?

I’d love to hear from you! :)

  • Gaaaah, neeeeed to read this. Like noooow.

    • Yes, yes you do :) Then we’ll chat!

  • GAHHHH I WANT THIS BOOK. Still waiting on the audiobook to come out, which is the format I’m planning to get. I’ve been told it’s coming, and last I heard the release is at the end of the month. Waiting is so hard!


    • :) I think it will be well worth the wait! If the narrator is good this one will be a perfect audiobook. I usually only listen to audio versions of “easier” books, like romances or uncomplicated YA, or the books I’ve read before. I tend to get distracted doing other things while I’m listening and sometimes miss a beat and it’s not so bad if that happens in a romance novel – but very bad if it’s a really complex fantasy, for example!

  • I’ve not read anything by Schwab but the premise of this book in your enthusiasm make it sound AMAZING. Will add it immediately to the TBR but will likely not read it soon enough to cut in on the enthusiastic conversation you are having with yourself:0)!

    • I think it’s worth giving Vicious or this one a try – they may not be your thing but I can’t recommend them enough.
      Eh, we’ll chat whenever you get to it ;)

  • Wow, I loved, loved, loved your review! I can’t believe how coherent and eloquent you were able to make it, I felt like I was just rambling on about the awesomeness XD

    Anyways, yes Schwab is a master world-builder, this was staggeringly complex and she made it seem like a walk in the park. I love the idea of parallel worlds and the fact that she handled it so well makes me giddy! And I ADORED the characters here too, I appreciate smaller casts of characters but ESPECIALLY when they’re ALL this memorable^^

    OMG I NEED ADSOM #2 like, yesterday O.O

    Anyway, thanks for stopping by earlier :) New follower via bloglovin & feedly!

    Micheline @ Lunar Rainbows Reviews

    • Thanks, Micheline – both for the comment and the follow! :)

      YES I need ADSOM #2 in my life NOW. I wonder where the story will take L & K! I’m hoping for a pirate trip around the world :)

      Parallel worlds are cool, you’re right, but it takes real effort to make them function as well as she did here.

      Thanks for returning the visit! This is what I love about blogging, discovering new bookish people.