“Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.”
With the final book in the Shades of Magic series being released in just a few days, I decided it was time to catch up with V. E. Schwab’s highly-rated fantasy series, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic.
A Darker Shade of Magic is a fantasy book set in London – or more specifically, Londons, each one part of a different parallel universe, and with its own unique qualities and characters. The main character, Kell, is one of two individuals with the ability to travel between the parallel Londons, acting as an ambassador between the cities. Grey London is the familiar capital city of England, where few are even aware of the existence of magic. In the dangerous White London, magic is a thing to be controlled and coveted, whilst in Red London – Kell’s London – magic openly flourishes under the rule of the Maresh Empire. Then, there’s Black London, the mysterious city Kell is forbidden from visiting, and of which nobody speaks.
“’The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.’”
One of the things I loved about this book is that there was no waiting for things to get interesting. Thanks to the combination of magic, intriguing settings and fantastic characters, this book was immediately addictive. Its pacing was reasonably fast for a fantasy, and the dialogue was filled with witty quips, meaning that even the less exciting moments were interesting and humorous.
A Darker Shade of Magic creates an intricately detailed world, populated with unique and well-developed characters who I couldn’t help but love from the start. While Kell is the Red Traveler, bound by responsibility to delivery messages between Londons, his mischevious and humorous brother Rhy is the heir to the Maresh Empire, and is known for his flirting and love of extravagant parties.
“’He’s … charming and spoiled, generous and fickle and hedonistic. He would flirt with a nicely upholstered chair, and he never takes anything seriously.’”
The relationship between these two characters is written fantastically, amplifying the contrasts between the pair, and fleshing out the characters in a way most writers would envy. I loved the character of Rhy straight away, the vivid description allowing his voice and mannerisms to quickly take shape in my head as I read. Another favourite character of mine is Lila Bard, the bold Grey London thief who prides herself on her ability to pick pockets and wield knives, but knows nothing of the other Londons linked to her city.
I found the writing in A Darker Shade of Magic engrossing and readable: the descriptions were vivid, but never boring. The magic felt unique, but not so complicated that it needed to be explained in detail. I won’t give away much of this book’s plot, as this is intentionally kept vague in the book’s description. But it was original in the fact that it didn’t revolve around a quest, and that the conflict stems from the characters’ own actions, rather than destiny. This gave them a real sense of agency in terms of directing the story. It also felt like it could stand as a full story on its own – although I’m grateful there are more adventures to come. While there were still mysteries and more areas to explore at the end of the book, there was also a resolution to the main conflict, which meant this was a satisfying read for the first book in a trilogy.
A Darker Shade of Magic was an effortless and engrossing fantasy read. The characters are some of the best I’ve come across in the genre, and the settings somehow both magical and believable. I would highly recommend this to fans of character-driven fantasy.
“’I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.’”