Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic (Book 1)
Paperback: 416 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
: 5/5 Stars
Do you ever avoid books for all the wrong reasons?
I avoided this book for the longest time because I was afraid that it wouldn’t be my “style” based on the cover designs and title. If I’m honest, I’m not sure what had me so hesitant when looking at the cover — I mean, they literally say, “don’t judge a book by it’s cover”. Despite knowing this, that’s exactly what I often do. Admittedly, I was also nervous this book would be too dark for me. While I love reading about magic, treachery, impending war and all the wonders of magic, dark and light, I don’t enjoy gore, torture or things of that nature.
You’re probably thinking “why not read a review?” “did you read the synopsis?” “what about this cover suggests any of the things you don’t like?” — listen, you’re right. None of these make sense and I honestly did little to no (definitely no) research on what the book was about beyond “eh, that cover doesn’t speak to me”. Mistakes are made every day, my friends, and I make quite a few of them.
Now that that’s out of the way, I’m happy to report that I couldn’t have been more wrong about this book! V.E. Schwab has such a unique and enticing writing style and I found myself immersed in these characters from the very beginning of this book. Readers are introduced to the magic and ways of antari by watching Kell as he interacts with the King of Grey London. There’s no hand holding or explanations given except through the eyes and narration of the main character as he carries out his responsibilities in traveling between London as a messenger. Immediately you’re craving more information behind the mysterious blood magic of an antari, the strange behavior of the King, and the notion of multiple London’s.
Kell is a deliciously mysterious character with a tortured soul and a habit for bending the rules. From his thoughts you learn that he is devoted to his brother and family despite the tortuous realization that he is not in fact a member of the Royal family so much as their property. Though Kell values the law and order of moving between worlds, he is fascinated by small trinkets with little meaning to others and often risks bending the rules in order to collect these precious items. These small aspects of Kell’s personality show the humanity behind his magical difference from others and allow the readers to wonder more about the man behind the magical black eye.
When you’re just getting invested into Kell and his story, enter Lila Bard — fierce, lethal and likely to steal the glasses off your face before you’ve even finished reading about her. The author chooses to portray her story in the same way as Kell’s, walking the reader through her thoughts and actions rather than providing backstory to prepare you for her arrival. Schwab executes this incredibly well, as I never found myself confused as she shifted between Kell and Lila’s perspectives.
At her core, Lila is an adventurer who longs for a life far more vibrant than the Grey world she was born into. Prone to pick pocketing in order to survive, Lila craves the life of a pirate who serves only themselves and the sea. Despite her rough and tumble, quick draw exterior, Schwab provides the readers with small cracks that show how vulnerable and caring Lila can be. I found myself wondering what led Lila to the life of a thief and who built that wall around her heart that forced her to believe she could only rely on herself.
These characters drive the plot of this story through their incredibly vivacious, competitive and quick-witted relationship. There is a tangible chemistry between them from the very beginning, again showing the brilliance in Schwab’s ability to write dimensional characters. Their chemistry is undeniable, yet it doesn’t distract from the main plot of the novel. They continue to pursue their goal while simultaneously showing that the nature of their relationship is evolving along the way into something more than just a thief and a smuggler who wound up obtaining a rare and deadly artifact that could destroy the worlds they know.
I found myself impressed by all the characters and their ability to subtly hint at what’s to come. We’re given ruthless villains readers easily hate, who introduce us to the main problem of the series — reintroducing the true vitari magic to Grey, Red and White London, potentially leaving them open complete destruction. These villains are tied to Holland, the only other antari to exist, who we long to believe has good inside his controlled soul. Holland’s character reminds me of the Darkling from the Grishaverse in that he is ruthless and cunning, yet tortured and a product of his circumstance. You want so badly for this character to redeem himself.
I thought the end of this novel was the perfect set-up for future books in the series. There were questions answered, resolutions provided, and yet so many little easter egg situations scattered throughout that never really were addressed. This is brilliant writing because it allows readers to feel comfortable and content with the ending, only to likely have their worlds shattered and mind’s blown at the beginning of the next book. I am not convinced that some characters won’t come back to haunt us in the next book, and I love that I have that sense of unease.
Overall, this book is filled with excellent characters, an intriguing and mysterious plot, and dynamic relationships. I was hooked from the start and only craved more with every page turn. This is an excellent read for those who love magical stories but may want a change of pace from the fantastical elements of faeries, witches, wizards and mythical creatures. This book perfectly ties the modernism of present day world with royalty and magic. Definitely worth taking a chance on this book!