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

Blurb from Amazon:

Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Traveler magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…


I picked this book up on a whim and with a little trepidation, as sometimes I feel as though the YA fantasy genre can easily slide into well-worn tropes, imagery and symbolism. Oh- there’s a chosen one? Oh, he/she has a power no-one else has? They have to learn how to control it? Oh, they have an evil baddie out to kill them? Excuse me while I just stifle a yawn, won’t you? Well, with ADSOM I was pleasantly surprised. I found this book refreshing, engaging, and most importantly, new. I can’t quite remember any other novel that so skikfully describes four parallel Londons- Red, Grey, White and Black- each with their own magic, and yet carefully delineates between them. Its characters, too, are witty and unique- solemn, brooding, red-haired Kell (SWOON) is a rare ‘Antari’ magician, meaning that he can control an otherwise mercurial magic with his blood. And no, he’s not a ‘Chosen One.’ he doesn’t have to learn anything about his magic, because he already knows it- in fact, he’s clever, and resourceful, although he has a penchant for smuggling items in and out of the different Londons which could well be his undoing. One of these ‘items’- if you can call her that- is actually a young girl, Delilah Bard (known as Lila,) a wry, whipsmart maverick thief, who harbours soft, whimsical dreams of being a pirate. Of being free. Both magic- and Kell- call to her, with dangerous and unexpected consequences.She leaves Grey London with Kell, and enters a new, magical and menacing world.

Other characters I liked included Holland, Kell’s rival Antari, aloof, cold and scheming, but who I couldn’t quite figure out. Despite all evidence to the contrary, I was unsure whether Holland was truly evil, or whether he was just cursed. In ADSOM, the worldbuilding is exceptional- engrossing and totally immersive. I was gripped, and had to know what happened next.

The only downside to me was the character of Prince Rhy, Kell’s sort-of brother, who annoyed the HELL out of me. Puppyish, impulsive, and hardly adept at magic, I felt he dragged down the plot, and that Kell would have been a stronger character without him chasing his heels. I saw Kell more as a lone-ranger type, and (SPOILER) wasn’t quite sure why he bothered to take so many life-threatening risks in order to save him. I also felt some of the politics and inner workings of Red London were a bit, well…dull. With this in mind, I can only really give this book 9.5 out of 10, but its safe to say I’ll be diving into the next installment.

Overall rating: 9.5 out of 10.

Read if you enjoyed: Leigh Bardugo’s ‘The Grisha Trilogy’, Neil Gaiman’s ‘Neverwhere.’

Note: All images are via Tumblr


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