A Darker Shade of Magic is Book 1 in V.E. Schwab’s The Shades of Magic series.
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
A Darker Shade of Magic Review
At the beginning I was confused about a lot of things. I understand that Schwab is building a world but it has so much information that it too me picking up the book for the third time before I actually stuck to it and finished reading it.
Just like the synopsis says, there are four Londons:
Gray London: Delilah’s world, magic has been forgotten and smells like smoke.
Red London: Kell’s world, full of magic and smells like flowers.
White London: Ruled by whoever is the cruelest, magic is used as a weapon and smells like blood.
Black London: Magic in here is the strongest, therefore all magic or object from this world is forbidden. Maybe smells like power? We don’t know.
You’ll get the smell references after reading a couple of chapters.
“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London”
These Londons are from parallel universes and only the Antari can travel between them with a token from each world and a wee bit of magic to open a door between universes.
First we are introduced to Kell, one of the only two Antari in the whole universe.
He has lived in Red London his whole life and he’s part of the royal family. I say “part” because he’s actually not a prince but he’s treated like the King and Queen’s son and as Prince Rhy’s brother.
Then we have Delilah “Lila” Bard.
She’s quite the character, believe me, she’s stubborn, reckless, a thief, careless, clever…did I mention she’s also a thief?
Delilah lives in Grey London. It’s the only London where magic has been forgotten and she has lived her whole life looking for an adventure. She definitely finds it after, shockingly, stealing quite an item from Kell.
The story starts a bit slow, with the whole story background and our main characters, Kell and Delilah, don’t meet until a third of the book through. This is when things start to get interesting.
Kell is kinda like a collector.
It’s forbidden to bring items from different Londons but he still likes to smuggle music boxes, lockets, instruments and ornaments and bring them to Red London. Because he’s known for collecting precious, simple and strange items, he’s accidentally involved in smuggling a black stone from Black London and he’s being hunted for the same reason.
After being severely injured, Kell is able to bring the black stone to Grey London only to stumble upon Lila who steals the black stone without Kell noticing.
Lila got herself into a whole lot of trouble without even knowing when she got involved in this situation. Because she wants an adventure and out of her Dull London, she wishes to team up with Kell against his will and return the black stone to Dead London.
“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
After hearing a lot about Shades of Magic, I will say maybe I was expecting more because of all the hype but it was a great book.
I’m still confused about how the magic works, maybe in A Gathering of Shadows we will learn a bit more about it. For someone looking for a unique world of fantasy, A Darker Shade of Magic is a great option.