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BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

| 1 October 2015 | Reply

BOOK REVIEW: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

Titan Books
February 2015
Paperback, £7.99
Reviewed by Aly Locatelli




And so Kell—inspired by the lost city known to all as Black London—had given each remaining capital a color.
Grey for the magic-less city.
Red, for the healthy empire.
White, for the starving world.

A Darker Shade of Magic is pure, unadulterated, wonderful fantasy. In Kell’s world, there are four Londons, each in an alternate dimension, and he is one of the last few people able to travel between the worlds. As an adopted prince of Red London (his London), and an Antari, Kell is officially an “ambassador”, delivering correspondence from one city to the other for the royal families.

Unofficially, he’s a smuggler.

Smuggling trinkets from one London to the other was ruled illegal and punishable by death when Black London closed itself off and anything related to it was destroyed: people as well as objects. But after a particularly bad day, Kell accidentally accepts a letter to be delivered — to be smuggled — and is given immediate payment. Once he gets to his destination, though, he realises that the letter was blank and the ‘payment’ he carried was the true object to be delivered.

A black stone from Black London, the power of which is pure evil.

Bad magic, Kell had called it.
No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.

A chance encounter in Grey London with cutthroat, pickpocket, wanted-woman Delilah Bard convinces Kell that the stone needs to be returned to Black London — a deadly mission that might leave Kell trapped in the forgotten city to be eaten alive by more evil magic.

“What are you?” she asked.
“A monster,” said Kell hoarsely. “You’d better let me go.”
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. “Monsters don’t faint in the presence of ladies.”
“Ladies don’t dress like men and pick pockets,” retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. “What are you really?”
“Tied to your bed,” said Kell matter-of-factly.
His brow furrowed. “And in trouble.”

Here’s what I loved about A Darker Shade of Magic: everything. From the characters to the setting to the world building, to the charismatic personalities that bled through the pages, this book was everything I love and more. It’s the sort of book that makes you rave about it even before you start reading, where the “too much hype” isn’t enough and couldn’t possibly cover just how wonderful it is. It’s brutal, unforgiving and absolutely, 100% fantastic on every single level. 

Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.
Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.
As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.

Schwab has made it onto my favourite author list with just this one book. She created villains (and everyone knows how much I love a good villain) that could rival the Lannister twins from Game of Thrones; gave us a setting we’ve seen before and made it impossible to even contemplate; and played on fantasy’s usual magic by making it a living, breathing beast that cannot be tamed. The idea of more than one London was amazing, but what truly made the worldbuilding stand out was how every London was completely different, except for one place. Whilst reading, you will find yourself rooting for both the villains and the good guys (when usually I only ever root for one set of people. Ahem, the villains) and it was fantastic that there was no instalove! In a genre populated by Chosen Ones, one-word-and-they’re-in-love couples and overused tropes and plots, A Darker Shade of Magic will take you completely by surprise at every single turn.

But there is more to love besides Kell and Delilah (who is brutal in her own right), you will also love Holland, another Antari but a slave to White London, and Rhy, Red London’s Prince and Kell’s best friend/unofficial brother. Each relationship, whether it be one of friendship or enemies, gave the characters life. They were the most real fictional characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about, and it was truly difficult to put the book down when it ended.

A Darker Shade of Magic is one of those series that I already wish would never end.

Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

21. A reader, a writer, a reviewer and a full-time sloth lover. I am addicted to coffee and my laptop, and love reading especially when it's rainy outside.

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