A Darker Shade of Magic was my second V. E. Schwab book (and my fourth overall book by the lovely author) and I have to say it was pretty awesome. Without going on and on about comparisons, Vicious is still my favourite of hers but A Darker Shade of Magic comes a close second. I think Schwab is a very talented writer, whose style best fits with the adult books that she writes rather than her YA.
A Darker Shade of Magic has a couple of main characters – Kell and Lila – but it is told from a number of different points of view. Let’s start with Kell, our resident Antari (magician/world hopper), who works for Red London’s royal family. I really liked Kell, although he’s not really a standout character for me. He’s pretty awesome, and his knowledge and use of magic was interesting to read about, making him interesting as well, but his personality wasn’t all that amazing. That is, until he mixes with other characters and they bring out a different side to him.
While we’re on the topic, can I just mention my ship? Because of course I had one. So, there’s Kell and Rhy, both are guys. Rhy is openly bisexual/pansexual and it is proven by the story, and while Kell’s sexuality is never mentioned (because it never comes up) I am 99.9% sure that he is in love with Rhy. Which made things a little awkward for a hot minute right at the beginning but IT’S OK, MY SHIP AND I WORKED THROUGH IT. So Kell and Rhy are best friends and they love each other so much and they go through a lot and if you’ve read A Darker Shade of Magic then you have to tell me that you ship it too okay? Especially after what Kell does at the end of the book because ERMEHGERD, OTP. And I’m also 99.9% sure that V. E. Schwab agrees with me. If not, I will write her an essay on exactly why they should be together.
Anyway, the second main character is Lila, a cross-dressing wannabe pirate from Grey London. I’m not going to lie, she annoyed me a little at first. She didn’t seem to think things through or look at the bigger picture before taking action, and in a story such as this with high stakes and death around every corner, you have to pause to think about what you’re doing. But she grew on me as the book went on, and I actually quite liked her by the end. I also loved how Kell was constantly having to apologise for the things she did because it was absolutely hilarious to me.
Another character that I absolutely loved was Holland, for Spartacus-type reasons. I would go into greater detail but SPOILERS, but basically Holland is an antagonist and he seems pretty evil but then you discover things and oh my god, my heart just melted. Team Holland 5ever.
I should probably talk about the world-building since this is a fantasy novel, huh? Okay so in this book you have four Londons (I previously thought it was only two. Silly me.) and Kell refers to them all by colour to keep them straight. We have Grey London, a place mostly without magic, Red London, where Kell is from, White London which is creepy as fuck, and Black London, which isn’t a place anyone can go to. PARALLEL UNIVERSES, YO. I thought the concept was awesome, and especially loved it when Schwab would talk about how each London is different and how they each had a different relationship with magic. And hey, get this. Antari all have one black demon eye. A DEMON EYE. If you watch Supernatural then you’ll know that this is very exciting and you’ll understand why I’m rolling around on the floor.
My main gripe with this book is that it wasn’t long enough. Because it is a fantasy novel, I would have loved a couple of hundred more pages to expand the world a bit more and to give us some more background on the cities and the royal families. Of course, keeping the book to roughly 400 pages was a good idea to keep the plot speeding ahead, as there’s never a dull moment, but I wanted more stuff on the magic system and the world-building. But I expect we’ll get to know more about those in book two, right? Along with Kell’s backstory and also Black London because I want to know allllll the things.
I love it when a book wraps up as nicely as this one did but still leaves you with questions. I am so, so intrigued about the sequel and I haven’t yet been able to stop thinking about this book and its characters (except for when The 100 was on last night because obviously).
A Darker Shade of Magic is an action packed thrill-ride that kept me on the edge of my seat. Fantasy lovers will love this one, because while it’s not long enough to have the epic worldbuilding of Brandon Sanderson or the detail of Scott Lynch, it makes up for that in terms of plot and pacing. And demon eyes. I would highly recommend this book to you all because it’s a hard one to put down and forget about. And now I shall begin the wait for book two. *settles in*