Book Review: “A Darker Shade of Magic” by V.E. Schwab

“Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned.”

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015. 400 pages.

Hardcover edition; Tor, 2015.
400 pages.

I feel like it was only fitting that I first stumbled upon this book on this table at a Waterstones store while in London on my honeymoon (I took the photo more for the sign):

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

See it?? The British cover, though. I like both covers!

Anyway, the reason my discovery was so fitting is that in this book, there isn’t just one London, but rather four!! So basically the perfect book for an Anglophile like me. It is a bit hard to explain, but each London exists in a separate, parallel universe, and connection to and travel between them has been cut off aside from the two remaining Antari (blood magicians): our protagonist Kell, tied to the magical “Red London,” and dark, tortured Holland, of bloodthirsty “White London.” There is also “Grey London” which I felt was the closest to our Regency-era London in the real world, and “Black London,” smoked out by the excessively powerful magic that burned through its inhabitants like a plague. Only Kell and Holland have what it takes to move between these worlds, officially to deliver correspondence between the different Londons’ different rulers, but each behaves outside of this role too. Kell has a bad habit – he illegally smuggles items between the Londons – and this proclivity is ultimately what drives the plot as it gets him into some serious trouble.

The existence of the different Londons and Kell’s ability to travel between them is the backdrop for a very fast-paced, dark urban fantasy which was ultimately unlike any other book I’ve ever read. A Darker Shade of Magic basically blew my mind; I finished in approximately 24 hours and I’m going to give it 4.5 stars. Schwab’s writing pulled me right into Kell’s world, or worlds, as it were, and I enjoyed the ride. I LOVED the idea of multiple Londons, each with their own defining characteristics, and the notion that there were “Collectors” and “Enthusiasts” in magic-less Grey London desperate for some proof of the magic existing in the other Londons that they could grasp on to. I also thought that the supporting characters, from wannabe pirate Lila to rebellious Prince Rhy, were just layered enough to not be stereotypical. I had to really search to find something that I didn’t absolutely love, and what keeps it at 4.5 rather than a perfect 5 for me is that I wanted some more of Kell’s character. I felt like there was a lot more of Lila’s backstory than Kell’s. Hopefully this is something that will arrive in the next book (yes, it’s a planned trilogy!).

All in all, I found A Darker Shade of Magic to be a replica of its title. Schwab shows us how awesome a world with magic can be, but how tainted one with too much of it can turn. I thought a lot of the quote “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely” while reading this. I’ll stop rambling now – I loved this book and highly recommend it!