A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1 (1/3)
Published by Tor on February 24, 2015
Genres: [Adult] Fantasy
Buddy Read With: Carolyn at A Hundred Thousand Stories
4 Stars, Completed August 18, 2015
– read the bold text to avoid SPOILERS –
Okay. I’m not sure why it took me two months to gather my thoughts to write this book review, but it did. With a lot of time to contemplate on how I should appropriately start this, I can now easily say that this book is
For the ones that dream of stranger worlds.
A Darker Shade of Magic opens up a world where readers learn of four Londons, where Kell, an Antari and one of the last Travelers, is a rare magician that is able to travel across these parallel universes. He’s also the adopted Prince of Red London and an ambassador that helps the rulers of each London keep in contact. The people from each kingdom admire but also fear Kell for the rarity and power of his race. What his royal family does not know is that he’s also a smuggler off the clock. But then his dangerous hobby leads him to an accidental treason and he flees to Grey London, where he meets Delilah “Lila” Bard, a stealthy and sharp-tongued thief and wannabe pirate that is addicted to risk and adventure. At first she steals from him but ends up later saving his life, and they decide to embark on a dangerous journey to save the Londons but first they must stay alive.
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.
I’m going to express the same thing every other reader has said about this book: the idea of the parallel Londons is uber cool and original. I really loved that each London had its own distinct qualities, some of them a lot more dingier and grotesque than others. Schwab certainly did not disappoint me in the world building department. Everything was illustrated in an appropriately evocative manner and not at all tedious. However, the beginning section did give me some time to warm up to. I think I spent a week trying to get through the first couple of chapters, but I also was experiencing a pretty bad reading slump and I think my mood for the fantasy genre was waning as I was reading this (hence why after this book I read a string of ya contemporaries).
As for the characters, before picking this up I heard from a lot of readers that the lack of connection toward the characters was the main reason why this wasn’t a five star read for them. And I’m partially in agreement with this.
“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”
Usually, I’m drawn towards the cheeky, sarcastic characters but I was slow to warm towards Lila. I think this was because her background remained unclear and mysterious throughout the story.
“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
But one thing that I really, really enjoyed about her personality was the sense of adventure, which is perfect since she’s an aspiring pirate and all (haha, that just sounds silly, I know). I’m just really hoping that Schwab decides to focus on her a little more in the next installment.
As for Kell, for lack of better words, he was just okay. I enjoyed his narrative a little more than Lila’s but that was pretty much it. There were moments I felt for him, but most times I couldn’t really understand him. And his relationship with Prince Rhy… I wasn’t too invested in it, so at the end when I was supposed to be emotional, I wasn’t. On the other hand, Holland, the only other Antari, was the character that I was greatly intrigued by. This is no surprise though. You guys know how the lonely characters just pull at my heartstrings… but he was eventually killed off. Now that scene made a wave of intense sadness wash over me.
But going back to my earlier statement of being partially in agreement with the lack of connection towards the characters… I think what readers fail to realize is that this is only the first installment. For characters like Lila I think it takes some time and more development before the reader can fully understand her. So the characters, though they were underdeveloped and still in a somewhat cardboard stage, have plenty of room to grow in the next books.
“Where did you get this?” he asked.
“In a pocket in your coat,” said Lila, stretching. “By the way, did you know that your coat is more than one coat? I’m pretty sure I went though five or six to find that.”
Kell stared at her, slack-jawed.
“What?” she asked.
“How did you know what it was for?”
Lila shrugged. “I didn’t.”
“What if it had been poison?” he snapped.
“There’s really no winning with you.”
Despite my iffiness towards the characters, I have to admit Kell and Lila’s easy banter was superb. The pair had a pretty rocky start but by the end since they went to hell (or scary White London) and back, I began to really like the idea of them being together. Something about the comaderie between couples is what gets me.
He would see her again. He knew he would. Magic bent the world. Pulled it into shape. There were fixed points. Most of the time they were places. But sometimes, rarely, they were people. For someone who never stood still, Lila felt like a pin in Kell’s world. One he was sure to snag on.
But there really wasn’t that much romance in this. But I think this slow burn attraction-not really romance-type of development was perfect. I’m anticipating more dynamics with the romance arc of this as the series progresses. No full fledge sexy times type of stuff though.
So, overall, I thought A Darker Shade of Magic did its job with setting a foundation and piquing everyone’s anticipation for the sequel. I was a little let down by the character development, but didn’t find it a huge deal breaker since this is only book one. Schwab really makes up for it with the exquisite writing and the marvelous world building. Honestly, the only thing I was majorly down by was the plot. Now with two months of retrospection, I really can see that the plot was more on the meh to simple side. I was expecting a more intricately crafted complex plot, so I was sort of greatly dismayed by finding this more easy one.
Anyway, although I wasn’t that fond with a few things, overall, this is definitely a strong start to a series I know I’ll grow to love. The writing is captivating; Victoria Schwab is definitely on my radar now. I’m really anticipating A Gathering of Shadows, and I have a feeling Vicious (that’s my next Schwab read hopefully) will be wicked!