Wednesday 3 August 2016


Book review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

If you'd ask me last year, I would've said high fantasy wasn't my cup of tea. I've tried watching Game of Thrones several times and couldn't get into it, and I'm always kind of put off by the amount of pages a high fantasy book series entails (the one exception being anything Tolkien, especially The Silmarillion). Until I came across the Harry Potter/Hunger Games/Game of Thrones-hybrid Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard, a really accessible young adult fantasy. I became absolutely hooked. I feel much more confident venturing outside of my reading comfort zone now and so when I was given the opportunity to review one of the novels by YA fantasy favourite V.E Schwab I didn't have to think twice.

There are four Londons that connect the different worlds in A Darker Shade of Magic: Grey London (closest to the London we know), which is virtually devoid of magic and is as bland as its name; White London, which has two sinister twins on the throne whose power-hungry escapades most closely resemble the little I know about Game of Thrones; Red London, which is the home land of protagonist Kell, who lives in the Royal Court; and Black London, which was consumed by magic long ago and was presumed lost.

People normally cannot travel between the different worlds unless they are of the Antari race; powerful magicians that can create doors between the different Londons, which are in the same place in each of the worlds. After a bloodshed in recent history there are only two Antari left that we know of: Kell, who lives in Red London and has been brought up by the royals, Prince Rhy being as close to him as a brother could possibly be, and Holland, who is bound by a magical soul spell to do the bidding of the cruel twins ruling over White London.

Red and White London are forced to exist side by side, with not one being more powerful than the other. However, all of that changes when an innocently looking smuggling job by Kell between two of the Londons goes horribly wrong, and suddenly the power of all Londons could befall any of those in the midst of the uproar. It isn't only Red London and White London that are implicated, but on his travels Kell picked up a petty thief named Lila in Grey London too, and with Black London being not quite as lost as everyone had presumed, the battle begins to open the doors between the Londons and control the magic of all the worlds.

While I found A Darker Shade of Magic to have a little bit of a slow start as the different worlds, characters, alliances and the rules of magic were introduced, once the story got going, it really got going. Each time Kell and Lila moved from one world to another, it almost felt like an entirely new story as it was so unique and exciting. The intricate details differentiating the four Londons were incredible and so very inventive, and the vivid descriptions practically made these worlds leap off the pages – I could've sworn I smelled flowers when we moved to the events in Red London.

Not being very well-versed within the high fantasy genre also gave me the advantage that I didn't spot common themes or developments within these kind of novels, and so every discovery and every twist was a complete surprise to me. There are some very clever revelations and storyline progressions that I didn't see coming at all, and this made the novel an endlessly exciting adventure, not to mention hugely gripping as I had to know what turn it would take next.

Neither Kell nor Lila are conventional protagonists or particularly likeable in the beginning, but the fantastic writing had me completely invested in their stories very early on. Kell especially because man he was bad-ass and so very, very cool (even his coat is awesome, you'll know what I mean once you read the book, trust me). And having a character from Grey London, a city so very close to our own, discovering the different worlds and the impact of magic on all of them, was a clever way of bringing the imaginative concept close to home. Even more so in my case, as I live in London and so was able to envision the different locations mentioned throughout almost as if I'd been walking there myself just moments earlier.

Complex, imaginative and absolutely engrossing, A Darker Shade of Magic is the perfect novel for readers to dip into high fantasy with (and to never come back out of it, because it's so very addictive). It is the first novel in a trilogy, with the final installment set for publication in 2017. I will be reading the second novel before then, for sure, because I need more of Kell and Lila in my life, not to mention explore all four Londons to their fullest extend. We've seen a lot from Grey London and Red London already, but I'd love to see more from White London, and perhaps even Black London. If the glimpses I've seen of these worlds so far are anything to go by, I'll be in for an absolute treat.

Many thanks to the publisher for a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review.

A Darker Shade of Magic is published by Titan Books and you can buy the novel from Foyles or your own preferred retailer.

Connect with the author


Twitter: @veschwab


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