Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab


Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)
Series: Shades of Magic – Book 1
Author: V. E. Schwab
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Extent: 398 pages
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Rating: ★★★★☆

Goodreads Description

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.


I wasn’t entirely sure what took me so long to actually read this book, all I know is that I’m kicking myself mentally for not picking it up sooner. Parallel worlds! Interesting characters! An inventive magic system! Judging from that, A Darker Shade of Magic is right up my alley—and in fact, it’s pretty smack-dab in the middle of my alley.

The first thing you need to know about this book is that the first half is really, really slow. It takes ages for the plot to actually jump-start and the action to pick up, though in place, Schwab guides us through a journey of discovery—mostly through her characters, who tend to daydream, get nostalgic, and act as dumpers of information. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing in my experience; it’s just something I’ve noticed.

I love, and I mean LOVE, the idea of the four Londons. It was easily one of the highlights of ADSOM to me, and Schwab did a really good job explaining these four to the readers. For those who are confused, she conveniently has Lila, the second main character, summing it up quite nicely:

“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.”

Kell, the main character we meet first, is one of the last remaining Travellers in the world. For someone who holds such an incredible title, he’s got a lot more thirst for danger and a lot less respect for authority than he probably should. While he might not be 100% trustworthy and reliable at all times, though, he’s kind when it counts and willing to what it takes for the sake of others, particularly those he cares about.

Lila, our second protagonist, is a bit of a rebel and a free-spirit. Like Kell, she too has a thirst for danger—for adventure, really, and for freedom—and is even less bound by anything. Her story arc revolves around her wanting a better life, except not the traditional respectable job and house-and-kids way. She’s not emotionless, but she’s certainly extremely prideful and prone to hiding her feelings.

“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
“Seen what?”
Her smile widened. “Everything.”

Despite their really different backgrounds, these two are actually remarkably alike, which makes them fast (though reluctant) friends. Kell trusts Lila in the way he hasn’t trusted anyone before, and Lila is at least willing to do the same for Kell, which is more than I can say about her and anyone else. Their banter is easy and fun, and they’re a suitable equal for one another.

The other characters in this book are vivid and interesting as well. I loved Holland, another Traveller who’s just plain tortured, and I loved Rhy, the Red Prince who presents himself as flamboyant and vain but is so much deeper than that. The latter’s relationship with Kell, especially, poses a unique situation that’s hopefully explored further in the sequel.

Apart from the slow pace in the first half of the book, the only other thing that bothered me was the use of (imagined) foreign languages. Admittedly, I’m bad at memorising foreign words and tend to glaze over anything I don’t understand, so whenever a character speaks in anything other than English and it’s not immediately translated, I kind of have to either search back for the meaning (thank god for e-books!) or just ignore it. Me being me, I tend to do the latter, which does sometimes impact my understanding of what’s happening on the page. 😛

A Darker Shade of Magic, in a word, was an adventure. Sure, the first half of the book was quite slow, but when it picked up, it picked up good. The world-building was solid, the characters fascinating, and the plot, overall, intriguing. If all of Schwab’s books are like this, she’s on-track to becoming an insta-read author for me.

“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.”

What do you think of this book? Where can I get Kell’s coat? Let me know in the comments or link me to your review! 🙂

56 thoughts on “Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab

  1. I’M SO HAPPY THAT YOU LIKED IT! I would’ve died if you hadn’t and then how am I going to visit you in Australia? However, I am a huge lover of made up languages in books, I think it shows a lot of dedication and creativity from an author and I honestly wish I could learn Arnesian. I can’t wait to see your thoughts on the second book!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! I never noticed the first half of the book being slow until you pointed it out but the plot does take a while to actually get going. I noticed it in the sequel but I didn’t care because she used that time to make Rhy a more central character, which was delightful. I hope enjoy A Gathering of Shadows just as much (if not more)!


    • Yeah, the world-building took a while to get through in my opinion – it wasn’t until maybe about 1/3 or 1/2 of the book is over that the pace picks up?

      I’ve actually read the second book and really enjoyed it as well! I loved that Rhy was a more central character – really upped the drama there, haha. Can’t wait for the third book. ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Such a great review! I admittedly am not the biggest fan of the series, simply because it’s a tad too slow for me, but I like the world-building and the characters. You will see a lot more development in that department in the second book 😀


  4. Yay, so happy to hear you liked this book! I found it quite great, and the whole idea of different London was SO good, but yes, the beginning was a bit slow, I was eager for the action to pick up! I can’t wait to read the second book, even if I heard it’s still a bit slow… I want to know what happens next 🙂 Great review!


    • Read the second booook! I love the whole concept as well – total winner for me, which is why I stuck to it even though it started out very slow. I’ve read the second book as well and would say that it’s also slow in the beginning, but it’s SO worth it. Can’t wait for you to pick it up! ❤

      Liked by 1 person

  5. This is such a great review! And I’m so glad you liked the book as well, this series is one of my favourites and honestly I think the second book is even better than this one. Have you read A Gathering of Shadows yet? You definitely definitely should start it right away if you haven’t 😀
    I really loved Lila and Kell together but honestly my favourite relationship was between Rhy and Kell. I loved every interaction between the two of them and honestly wanted more.
    Also YES I would totally give anything I owned for Kell’s coat. I love the idea of it!


    • Thanks so much! I’ve actually read AGOS already – and yes, I started it right away after finishing this one because THANKFULLY IT WAS ALREADY PUBLISHED!

      Oh goodness, I can’t choose which one is my favourite relationship. I love Lila and Kell but I also love Kell and Rhy AND whenever Rhy and Lila get together, haha. Pretty much everything about this series is amazing to me – I’m just too impatient to get to the ‘meat’ that the first few chapters are usually too slow for me. 😛

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh man what did you think of AGOS, it was definitely my favourite of the two but oh god that ending. I have no clue when the third ones released but unless it’s coming out tomorrow it’s way too long to wait 😀
        I would have loved to see more Lila and Rhy interaction. I felt the first book was very Kell and Lila heavy, the second very Rhy and Kell heavy, maybe we’ll get to see more of Lila and Rhy in the third one. Honestly though I loved all the characters 🙂
        Yeah it was slow to start with but I liked that that time was spent building the world and the characters a little!


        • I LOVED AGOS. I think this is one of those rare instances where the second book in a trilogy doesn’t slow down for me but actually raises the stakes and makes things more interesting. And THAT ENDING. I just checked Goodreads and apparently A Conjuring of Light is expected to be published in February 2017… so still the rest of the year to go, haha. Way too long, but I can only hope it’s worth the wait.

          This book honestly calls out to the shipper in me – I don’t usually feel such ~strong feelings~ about pairings and stuff but I am SO EXCITED whenever Kell and Lila meet and interact. I loved all the characters too, even the ‘evil’ ones. Holland, for example, was just SO tortured that I feel so bad for him. ;_;

          Liked by 1 person

          • The ending of the second book was so tense, and February 2017, that still so so long away I honestly don’t know how I’m going to wait that long to find out what happens! I need to know now!
            I’m sure it will be worth the way though, I’ve loved every book V.E. Schwab has released so I’m sure A Conjuring of Light is going to be amazing! Hopefully even better than AGOS.
            I know what you mean about Holland, I kind of found it hard to hate his character like I normally do the antagonist of stories just because he had such a tough live and everything. I kind of hope he gets a happy sort of ending!


            • I knooow, me too! I guess I’ll just busy myself with other books and series until the day comes. ;_;

              Have you read Schwab’s other novels? ADSOM is my first of hers and if others are like this, I think I’d love them as well. And yeees for Holland. Especially after the second book, poor man just needs a bit of a break. 😛

              Liked by 1 person

              • Well it’s already working for me! 😀
                I’ve read The Archived series, which I liked but not as much as ADSOM, and I’ve heard great things about Vicious, I have it on my to-read list and on my bookshelves actually, but haven’t gotten around to it just yet. God I really felt for Holland so much more in the second book than I did the first! He needs a break!


  6. I have heard nothing but glowing reviews about this series, so I am so glad to hear that you enjoyed it too Regina! Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! ❤


  7. Awesome review, Reg! I read this book last year and also rated it four stars. I agree with you on the four Londons plot to be just uber cool and that the side characters had a great presence. And oh my gosh, you NEED to read A Gathering of Shadows soon. I think it may be one of my favorite book releases of this year. Highly recommend. (Plus, Kell’s coat makes some more appearances, hehe.)


  8. How am I just seeing this review now?!
    ADSOM has a special place in my heart because it was the book that cured my reading slump last year. It’s always good to see it getting some love.
    I agree that the beginning and the setting up was a bit slow, but I think the payoff was totally worth it. As for the language, I just skip forward without giving it much thought. Hahaha. I thought if it was important, Schwab would have translated, but that’s just my excuse for being lazy. :p
    Are you planning to read A Gathering of Shadows?


    • I managed to get my boyfriend to read it and he’s liking it too! The appeal is universal, it seems, though he did say that he felt some scenes were a bit fanservice-y for women readers (i.e. when Lila had the stone and conjured a naked Kell), haha. It’s so funny how those scenes just didn’t register in my head as anything out of the ordinary. 😛

      That’s actually a good point – if it’s important she’ll provide a translation!

      I’ve read AGOS already. I’m just super behind on reviews, like always! I really liked it, in general… I thought it was also kind of slow at the beginning but the world-building is just amazing. Have you read it yet?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Hahaha I forgot about that scene. It was sort of gratuitous now that I think about it. xD
        I have read AGOS and actually love it more than ADSOM. I think AGOS has more character growth than ADSOM and a lot more Rhyyy. Love his dynamics with Kell and with … that other character. :p


        • I know! He was like “they just found this magical thing and all of a sudden there’s NAKED KELL?”. But I told him that male authors sometimes do things like that too, except ofc in a different way.

          I agree, haha. I love that new resentment between Rhy and Kell, makes things so much more intense and interesting. Can’t wait for ACOL!

          Liked by 1 person

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