Book Title A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM #01)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Number of pages: 398
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.
Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:
– Mainly plot-driven, multi-POV story set in four parallel Londons akin to The Fellowship of The Ring with characters bringing a rock back to Not-Mordor.
– Imaginative world building that reads effortlessly with an easy-to-learn magic system
– Romance is either non-existent or is that of a slow burn (you can still ship though)
– Villains who were complex on paper but felt different in action
– Kell’s coat is made out of Doraemon fur (see picture below)
Kell’s coat, Kell’s coat, Kell’s coat, Kell’s coat, Kell’s coat, Kell’s coat.
Grey London, Red London, White London, Black London.
As a liaison to the royal family in Red London, Kell traverses each London exchanging messages with those in power. He is of the few antari, wielders of blood magic, capable of stepping through into the parallel Londons. Kell is told of the dangers of carrying trinkets through the worlds and a recent trip has him bringing back a stone from a place thought to be deserted, dead, gone: Black London.
One London was already cool enough but four is like…four times the fun. Why have a 1-topping pizza when you can have 4, right? It’s sound logic. But seriously, as my first Victoria Schwab story, damn is the world building intricately detailed, picturesque, and vividly portrayed. Everything is super with this book and it stands to reason why A Darker Shade of Magic ranks the top of my list for Best World Building in 2015.
You have the Grey’s; they’re the assumed magic-less and live a dingy life. Hey, that’s our world!
The Red’s thrive in their majestic, flowery—and very magical—London.
Then we step into White London; a bleak landscape inhabited by creatures eerily human who live in the shadows with their rabid eyes. Magic in White is power, and the siblings that sit on top of the throne hold all of it.
And finally Black London…no one talks about Black London. Just don’t.
At the center of these four parallel worlds is a tavern; superficially different but a stronghold of familiarity for Kell to find comfort in knowing that he’s home away from home.
But as much as I enjoyed the world-building Schwab showed us (as opposed to telling us about), I still feel like there were parts of the magic systems that could have been expounded; particularly in Holland and the twin villains, Astrid and Athos Dane. Not sure if I can pinpoint is…but things felt unexplained when it wasn’t Kell info-dumping his knowledge to Lila (who is dragged into the whirlwind of conflict).
Schwab writes with precision and her storytelling isn’t bogged down by its learning curves. It holds the right amount of curious tension early on (re: it’s paced slowly) but the layering of elements felt effortless following a multi-POV narrative.
I’m at a loss for words with how to describe the fluidity of how this story was presented.
This kind of leans more towards characterization but I’ll mention it here instead:
I’m glad that the romance is non-existent or is that of a slow burn. Not only that, this story is majorly plot-driven and there’s no real downtime to reflect to have those honest conversations on the inside. Everything is very “go, go, go”. This is perhaps why moments felt hollow; lacking a real connection between the characters tying to their back story (particularly with Rhy and Holland) because the moments came and went as it served story line following the basic premise of a fellowships journey to bring a token back to not-Mordor.
All of my comments have been: I NEED KELL’S DAMN UNIVERSE-SPLITTING, TIME-TRAVELLING MULTI-PURPOSE REFACTORED COAT. You know Doraemon? (You probably don’t.) Well, his coat is basically the same idea: a vortex of pockets and nifty rips in the space-time continuum to store shit. This >>
But enough about the coat—it’s Kell who breathes life into this book (his bromance with Rhy hurts the soul). He may be typecast into an “only hero with special powers” role but damn Kell was easy to root for. He’s flawed, compassionate, competent, and basically a badass without jumping into the pompous asshole role.
Lila, on the other hand, was nothing too special for me. She’s your standard strong, hard-headed, tomboy-ish pirate (she basically cosplays a boy) wannabe thief. The dynamic between the two was fun to read but that’s where I draw the line. As mentioned earlier: I didn’t feel the romance at all.
The biggest issue I had was in the baddies. You know the argument that villains should just remain villains and not go into their monologue-y shpeel about how awesome they are? A Darker Shade of Magic has antagonists who frolic in this territory. I can support that they’re sort of morally complex and sadistic on paper, but when put to the test, their actions conflicted with who they were sold to be.
I’ve been recommended Victoria Schwab’s books more than I can say I’ve pushed Patrick Ness onto everyone. But man was I pleasantly surprised by the vivaciousness of world building that exploded in my face with every page that turned. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic trilogy is definitely shaping up to be a new favourite for sure, and one you should consider reading if not for Four London’s, then for that damn coat that you will read about and will want to add to your wardrobe. Seriously.
Low key: my rating makes no sense because I really did enjoy it LOL!