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

Have you ever found an author whose writing just sings to you?  Like, they could be writing about paint drying and it would be poetry to your ears?  But, thank goodness they aren’t actually writing about paint drying because they’re too busy writing about all of your favorite things?

Victoria Schwab is that author for me.

My roommate bought me my first book of hers.  Vicious, if you haven’t read it, skyrocketed to one of my all-time favorite books.  Ever.  Period.  I love that book with the same fervor as I would love my first-born child…I think.  Not actually having a first-born child, it’s kind of a hard comparison to make…

Anyway, I was delighted when I finally got my hands on A Darker Shade of Magic.  It’s the first part of a series centered around different Londons–Red London, Gray London, White London, and Black London–and Kell, one of the few travelers able to move between them.

For those of you who haven’t heard about this book yet, here’s the blurb on the jacket:

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.  

V. E. Schwab does a glorious job with the fantastical.  Her ability to dive into her characters and have them come to life on the page is a stunning talent.  They’re complex, real, and so very relatable.  Kell, our traveler, struggles to find his place in a world by defying his role in it.  Lila, our thief, steals out of necessity and enjoyment, but refuses to be corrupted from her own special brand of honor as she flees from a fate of just…standing still.  What gives these characters their strength is also their main source of weakness–and I love it.  I get feeling trapped and I get wanting adventure.  And these characters struggle in the same way I’m sure we’ve all struggled with such things.  While, you know, fighting to save the world and stuff.

I’m trying not to give away much in the way of spoilers, but I think the way Schwab addresses magic in her four worlds is noteworthy.  It’s dark (heh, hence the title!) and beautiful all at once.  It absolutely feeds into the theme of longing I felt running as a current through the entire narrative, packaged as both a blessing and a curse depending on which lens you view it through.  That being said, I’ve never felt simultaneously repulsed and enchanted by a form of fictional magic before.  And I believe her ability to even have the system of magic itself work toward outlining the duality of longing (a la The Grass is Always Greener mentality) is expert writing.

I’ll definitely be picking up A Gathering of Shadows, the next installment in Kell and Lila’s story of the Four Londons.  Check back here for my review!

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