Book Review: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V. E. Schwab

It has been a long time since I’ve read a book that made me want to just sit and finish it in one sitting, and in the past two weeks I’ve read two of them. One of them is the one in this review, A Darker Shade of Magic, and the other I’ll review next week, The Rules of Magic. As you can see, both of them contain fantastical elements but they’re both very different stories.

I picked this book up on a whim a few weeks ago and have had it sitting on my bedside table ever since, up until I had to take a long plane ride out to Los Angeles. Then, not only did I start this book, but I absolutely devoured it. As I said, it’s been a long time since I’ve read a book that made me want to just sit still until it was over.

A Darker Shade of Magic is the story of two people, Kell (a smuggler of sorts, and a magic user) and Lila (a cross-dressing thief who somehow manages to be at the wrong place at the wrong time). They live in different versions of London (there’s Grey, Red, and White, with the rumor that there once existed a Black London that has since been destroyed) and only specific magic-users called Antari can move between these worlds. Kell is an Antari, and it’s soon revealed that only two remain: Kell, in the service of Red London, and Holland, in the service of the much-more-bloodthirsty White London. Something has made it through the “door” from the extinct Black London that threatens the entire existence of the other Londons, and it’s up to Kell to try and put things right (with Lila tagging along for good measure).

I wasn’t sure what to make of the story at first, and it did take me a few chapters to get into the groove of what was going on, and then there was a perspective shift. Yes, while the book is told from the third-person (almost limited, in a way), there are chapters specifically devoted to Kell, chapters specifically devoted to Lila, and then a few chapters throughout that show what’s happening outside. I think it works really well, but that first shift is a little confusing.

However, once the action begins to pick up, it really does. While there were a few shifts in setting that required me to pay more attention than usual, everything was easily followed and there isn’t anything extraneous here. My favorite part is that Schwab doesn’t regale is with hot-and-heavy sex scenes, like so many fantasy books seem to think readers want. Yes, there are some things hinted at, but nothing super explicit.

Also, Schwab is very good at the whole magical realism thing, drawing her reader into a story and making them believe everything is true. Grey London seems to align more with what our view of the 1810s would be like, but Lila ends up exploring the other Londons and pretty much accepting that magic exists. That’s something I had to deal with in my novel — how do I get characters to accept things without them seeming passive? Schwab does an excellent job in this regard.

In short, I have probably ended up rambling on and not really saying anything about this book. I am writing this at 12:30 am because I can’t sleep due to an ongoing anxiety attack, so apologies in advance.

The characters, while maybe not “relatable” in a literal sense, are relatable in that everyone has wanted to rebel at some point in life, everyone has had to work to get to where they are, and everyone must confront their worst nightmares at some point. I found the characters to be very believable and I was rooting for them all the way through. The only thing I would say is that sometimes things work out a little too well for them, if you know what I mean. Even in seemingly-impossible battles, either Kell or Lila will notice something miniscule in the heat of the moment that will end up saving their lives. Does it happen? Yes. But are people usually fighting for their lives in every chapter of a book? Not usually (unless we’ve evolved into Game of Thrones). But I guess fugitives can do whatever they want?

The story was tight and well-written, with very little diverging from the main story (which I appreciated) and I could honestly see this as being a stand-alone novel. And maybe it was at some point. Now it’s part of a trilogy. And I am on Amazon at 12:30 am specifically to order the next volume because I have a serious problem.

I think I’ve seen this book on a blog here and there, but I must have missed the mad “YOU NEED TO READ THIS” rush at some point (most likely it came about before I started this blog). I just want to say that this book 100% lived up to the hype for me, and I can’t wait to see what happens next. I’m giving this book a 4.5/5 stars, because it really did the trick for me. Will I revisit it in a few years and drop it by a half star or even a whole star in rating? Probably. But for now, for being one of the two books that have gotten me back “into” reading, it’s as close to perfect as I can get.

Have you read this? Am I making a good choice by continuing, or am I gonna get my heart ripped out at some point down the road? Let me know in the comments!

And as always, keep reading.

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