“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.” – V.E. Schwab, A Darker Shade of Magic
What do you get when you cross aspiring pirates with black-eyed magicians who can travel through multiple universes? A mess. A huge, tangled web of a mess, but a beautiful mess at that. That’s A Darker Shade of Magic in a nutshell for you. Let’s cut this apart, shall we?
V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is a heavy multiversal fantasy novel. It is set in four Londons, all separated by magic. The first, Grey London, is essentially the plagued, dull Victorian London we all know of. The second, Red London, thrives on magic, is teeming with life and is what our protagonist, Kell, calls home. The third and most eerie London of all, White London, is starving, desperate for magic. It is governed by the bloodthirsty, all-powerful Dane twins; Athos and Astrid. It is also the home of Holland, another central character. Finally, Black London. A forgotten land which let magic consume everyone and everything within it.
Now that I’ve mapped everything out a bit for you (because let’s face it, I was hopelessly confused all throughout the beginning of this novel), let’s dive straight into the heart. Kell, the main character of this novel, is a multi-faceted magician or Antari, as it’s known by some members of the magical community. In other words, he was born with a bit of magic already coursing through his veins, and can still travel through the closed doors between the Londons by the use of his blood magic powers. The only thing is, he is one of two Antari left, who weren’t killed in the purging of magic. He and Holland, an Antari from White London, can travel through these worlds nearly effortlessly, but it just so happens that they definitely do not get along.
One night, in a special tavern that exists in all three Londons, Kell receives a package from a frenzied patron. The package contains a stone. A jagged black stone that seems to come alive in his hand. Kell soon realizes the danger attached to this stone. After all, what damage could one do if it were to fall into the wrong hands? A stone of pure, unadultered magic lies pulsing in Kell’s pocket. Then, Kell meets Lila. Lila is a young girl who disguises herself as a man so that she may freely roam the streets of Grey London without a care in the world, and possibly pick a pocket… or several, on the way. Simply acting in character, Lila steals a magical stone off of Kell’s person and disappears, causing Kell to, understandably, panic. After tracking her down it becomes clear that Kell will not be able to get rid of her. Their meeting also comes with a test of the stone’s real power. When Lila can make something appear out of thin air just by holding the stone and thinking even in Grey London, a world where magic is dead, Kell knows that this stone is a part of the ruthless Black London, and that he’ll have to risk everything to get it back where it belongs.
That summary didn’t nearly do the book justice, but admittedly it’s very hard to talk about without spoiling some key details, conflicts and relationships between characters. I was elated to read this one, as I’ve already read Vicious by V.E. Schwab, and if you read my review for that, you know that I was utterly blown away by her writing. Soon after picking this book up, I realized that it was an extremely indepth fantasy book, and I wondered whether I would be comfortable with it, or if I would just get confused and lose track of all the characters, like I did when attempting to read Lord of the Rings. The only fantasy books that I’ve read that are comparable to this, would be the Harry Potter series, of course, which is my favourite book series ever but a lot less sophisticated than A Darker Shade, when it comes to the magic element. So if you’re like me and you usually turn your nose up at this kind of sorcery and trickery in a novel, give A Darker Shade of Magic a second chance.
A Darker Shade of Magic started slow, with the obligatory introductions to all of the settings and characters, but once I got halfway through, I finished it in a day. It’s very gripping and exciting, with a cliffhanger at the end of nearly every chapter. I was interested in seeing how the writing in this book compared to that in Vicious and I came to realize that V.E. Schwab is an incredibly versatile author. Aside from the punches of witty humour present in both books, I couldn’t tell that they were written by the same person. Vicious deals with a myriad of social and political topics, while A Darker Shade is much simpler (and has a lot more gore, I might add). I loved most of all that gender stereotypes were disregarded in A Darker Shade of Magic. There are two main female characters; Astrid Dane and Lila Bard, and they both kick fictional ass. I can’t think of one instance where either of them were sexualized unnecessarily. It’s a horrible pet peeve of mine when a character is only relevant in a story for being somebody else’s significant other. That does not occur in either of V.E Schwab’s books that I have had the pleasure of reading.
A Darker Shade of Magic was a fantastical breath of fresh air, and it was wonderful to step out of my comfort zone for this book because it was well worth the read. Like I said previously, it’s a bit tiresome in the beginning, and it’s not something that I think I’ll be remembering for a long time, but in the moment, it’s a thrilling ride which I hope some of you will opt to take. The sequel, A Gathering of Shadows will be out soon. I’ll probably be reading that to see where the characters find themselves next, but I doubt that I will review it because the spoilers will be difficult to avoid. Anyway, thank you so much for reading this review! Happy reading!