A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – Review

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Published: February 24, 2015

Publisher: Tor Books

ISBN: 9780765376459

Pages: 398 (Hardcover)

Rating: 4.0/5.0


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.

I’ve heard overwhelmingly positive reviews of A Darker Shade of Magic, mostly from fellow book lovers on Instagram, though I’ve read a couple blog reviews as well. Obviously after so much book love I had to check it out, just to see if I would like it as much as everyone else. Well, I did. The idea of alternate Londons in very, very different worlds was awesome! Many books that do the whole “alternate universe” thing do a steampunk version, a high tech version, our version etc., but Schwab does something totally different. In each world there is a city called London, but the world is NOT the same. English is a language that overlaps between the worlds, but its only really spoken by the royals or the elite in Red and White London, with Grey London being the one most like ours (or maybe actually ours). The world is also not the same- Red and White Londons have different countries and empires and really even climates it seems. It’s one of the coolest things.

After a great rift occurred hundreds of years prior, the only way the three Londons are linked is through a certain type of magician, like our protagonist Kell. Kell and his counterpart from White London, Holland, are the last of the Traveler’s- magicians that can travel between the three cities at will. Mostly they’re a magical courier service used by the rulers of the Londons to communicate with one another, but sneaky Kell runs kind of a black market where items from the worlds are traded. This sounds like trouble because it is. Items are not supposed to be brought between worlds. Once his mistakes finally catch up with him he runs into Lilah, a cross-dressing thief and piratical hopeful of Grey London. She saves his skin several times and gets in pretty deep with Kell, which makes her life much more exciting. Lilah is a tough girl after my own heart- instead of picking out a pretty dress to wear to a masquerade ball, she goes practical and powerful, picking out a pretty rad coat, pants, and leather pirate-y boots and a horned black mask. I imagine that she looked like she stepped off the Alexander McQueen runway at fashion week, but with significantly more weaponry hidden on her person than any model of haute couture.

Did I mention that Kell is pretty stylish as well? He’s got a coat that is actually like six or seven coats and it changes when you turn it inside out.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book I’ve read by Victoria Schwab and I’m really impressed by her writing. I was also thrilled to see that this is a series and the second novel is called A Gathering of Shadows and will be released February 2016! How exciting is that? The covers for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows are also nice, minimalist pieces that will look nice on my shelves.

I did listen to the audiobook version of this book and it was great. Steven Crossley provided the narration and did a fabulous job adding depth and emotion to the story. I would definitely recommend either format of the book.


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