A Darker Shade Of Magic – Would You Want To Live In A Magical London?

Book Review : A Darker Shade Of Magic

By V.E. Schwab

Spoiler Alert!



Kell is one of the last travelers–magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There’s Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad King–George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered–and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London–a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, 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. (Courtesy of goodreads.com)

Adult Point of View

I was expecting a light, whimsical magical world, maybe with a little romance, when I picked A Darker Shade Of Magic up off the library shelf, but my first clue I was wrong should have been the title. It does say a darker shade, not a light grey or pretty blue shade of magic. In this case, I’m glad that I was wrong!

Schwab’s writing is more complex and thorough than many modern authors. I always love a book more if the sentences are interesting! Her short sentences are like a quick jab to make a point and then longer sentences with descriptions.

Here is Lila noticing the color of Kell’s eyes:

“One of his eyes was a lovely blue. The other was pitch black. Not black-irised like some of the men she’d seen from the Far East, but a pure, unnatural black, running edge to edge, uninterrupted by color or white.” (p. 141)

I’ve heard that others were confused by the alternate universes, the different Londons each with its own personality. I thought Schwab was incredibly clear (on the jacket cover), and if the reader didn’t get it Lila (the thief, and aspiring pirate) explains it very succinctly.

“‘There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,’ she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. ‘See? I’m a fast learner.'” (p. 198)

Really! There’s nothing that hard about that! I enjoyed all of the characters. Kell and Lila are on the top favorites. Kell maintains an innocence at odds with with his magical abilities which could have made him conceited. Lila is a great combination; partly vulnerable and completely competent, a bit vindictive and surprisingly loyal.

A Darker Shade Of Magic opens with Kell, one of the last Antari (those with magic who can travel between Londons) and his peculiar coat. His coat instantly had me hooked wanting to know more of his magic world.

“The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.” (p. 11)

Elements of why this is darker magic include, the magic needs to be invoked with blood – not occasionally – but pretty much always. Black London is dead because the magic consumed it, and presumably everyone there. The magic in White London is quickly becoming a devouring beast and the most blood-thirsty people are the ones to be worthy of ruling. There are a couple of scenes that could have become a rape, but the character escapes. There is a bit of cursing, including the F-bomb, which really could have been edited out. Prince Rhys is described as wanting both female and male lovers. However, there are no love triangles or steamy kissing scenes or details. Most of the relationships center around family, which is refreshing. However, there is plenty of blood, death and carnage.

I think A Darker Shade Of Magic is more appropriate for a slightly older teen audience.

I actually really ended up liking the book and feel compelled to read the next in the series.

4 out of 5 stars

4 star

  • the Mother

If you liked this one try Alloy of Law by Brandon Sanderson (the second set of the Mistborn series), if you like the 1800’s try The Lady of Devices by Shelley Adina (steampunk genre) and if you like unique magic try The Queen’s Poisoner by Jeff Wheeler or A Cast of Stones by Patrick W. Carr.

About Tales Untangled

I am a mother of four children and have a passion for reading. I love sharing my treasury of books with my kids. I also do experiments in cooking which includes such things as Indian Tandoori Chicken slow-cooked in a tagine. I write stories and illustrate in ink.
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