A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

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Three very different Londons, in three very different countries, and Kell was one of the only living souls to have seen them all.

Welcome to the Darker Shade of Magic realm, where parallel Londons exist in very different countries and outside the understanding of all inhabitants save royalty and a select few. Long ago travel between the Londons was possible, but the doors have long since been closed to all but the two remaining Antari – rare magicians with the ability to travel between the Londons. A Darker Shade of Magic is the first installment to the Shades of Magic trilogy and I am excited for more!

“There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London. See? I’m a fast learner.”

Such is the quandry when it comes to magic, that it is not an issue of strength but of balance.

What a roller coaster of emotions this book was for me! I was instantly hooked with the opening lines, was bored with the pacing and repetition, and then was completely sucked in again. It was really weird and while I have my conversation with my buddy reading partner Sam about how we struggled with the pacing in the beginning, I still do not really know how to adequately describe the disjointed feelings that I had during the exposition. I love flowery writing and expansive worldbuilding, but there was something that didn’t quite jive with me for the first 5 or 6 chapters of the book. I wrote to Sam, “Imagine if this wasn’t pages of descriptions” and she agreed.

But then something changed. It wasn’t Schwab’s writing style because it was consistently descriptive, and it wasn’t that the plot took off because it was captivating from the first page. Suddenly I was devouring each page gleefully and loving every bit of the story as it unfolded; my best guess is that I struggled with the way exposition was laid out in the book and once I got through the most ‘info-dumpy’ parts I really settled into the narrative. I am really glad that I stuck with it because I was very close to a DNF.

Anyways. I love the characters so much and Lila is welcome to join my fictional girl gang anytime. Kell is such a lovely character, and I really appreciated the limited glimpse of Rhy (I hope he gets more exploration in the rest of the triology!) There is diversity in this book and loved the bi representation with Rhy. The freedom of sexuality and fluidity here across all three Londons was really refreshing to see.

🏴‍☠️ Delilah (Lila) Bard is a pirate without a ship, desperate for adventure from her drab and meager existence in Grey London. Scrappy, hilarious, and strong.
🎩 Kell is one of two remaining Antari, lives in Arnes – what he refers to as Red London. He travels between the Londons with messages from the rulers, acting as a magical courier of sorts, but also has a treasonous hobby of collecting trinkets from the other worlds.

‘I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.’

The majority of the narrative is told from Lila and Kell’s perspectives, both of which I enjoyed equally (which is rare for me). However, I did struggle a bit with a couple narrative shifts that went to random side characters as they weren’t notated and I found it to disrupt the narrative flow.

I have to say that Holland is one of the best, most well-rounded villains that I have read in a long time. I like my antagonists to be sympathetic, complex, and dark and twisty with the lines between good and evil definitely blurred. I definitely want more of his story and what went down. The Danes are creepy and just outright evil with their bloodlust and their juxtaposition with the other characters makes for an interesting shade of morally gray.

Antari could speak to blood. To life. To magic itself. The first and final element, the one that lived in all and was none.

Really cool elemental magic system – earth, air, fire, water, bones (people). It seems that people have an aptitude for one, and the Antari can command over all of them plus blood (which enables their London travel). A lot of time in fantasy I am left wanting more explanation of the magic system – oftentimes I feel like its glossed over because ‘magic needs to explanation’ – but Schwab took care to think about and explain how magic works… and that ties into the very being of every character in the book. It made for more opportunity for conflict and I look forward to seeing that exploited.

If red was the color of magic in balance – of harmony between power and humanity – then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint. 

The fact that Red London is thriving with magic while Black London crumbled under its weight, and White London seems to be infected with Black while Grey has none makes for an underlying theme of power and corruption. I cannot wait to learn more about Black London and what happened there.

Grey London had forgotten magic long ago.

I love this world and what I feel like is an expansion of our world (are we living in the world of Grey London?)! The world that Schwab created is vast, detailed, and comes alive on the page – just as her characters do. Even though this book is first-in-trilogy, it comes to a satisfying ending and could be read as a standalone – no cliffhangers here! This was my first book of Schwab’s and I can see why she her work is so coveted. Looking forward to continuing on with this series.

cw: for self-mutilation as the Antari can travel between Londons via their blood

🤝 Buddy read with the wonderful Sam from Sleepy Sam Reads! Be sure to check her out because she is lovely and I adored reading this book with her!



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Hi! I’m Kaleena: book lover, runner, wanderer, and philanthropist. Life is an adventurous gift: through the outdoors and books. I run Reader Voracious Blog, where I post spoiler-free book reviews of science fiction, fantasy, speculative fiction, and mystery & thriller.

37 thoughts on “A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) by V.E. Schwab

  1. I’m so glad you enjoyed this! I hear from a lot of people that the pacing isn’t their favorite, but that it’s worth sticking with, which makes me happy to hear. And never fear! You’ll see more of Rhy in the future! And even more incredibly well rounded characters because that’s honestly Schwab’s greatest talent. You shouldn’t love the villain, but man, she absolutely sells them to you every time.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Man, I love me some complex villains. They are my absolute favorite kind of characters I think. and that says a lot about me. But Schwab is so good at this! I am reading Vicious right now and !!!

      I have also read A Gathering of Shadows and loved more Rhy! But the pacing was even worse than in this one, so I don’t know when I will pick up the 624-PAGE Conjuring of Light. 😭

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I had such similar feelings! I ended up enjoying the book a lot, but it wasn’t my favourite and I felt like there was something missing. Holland is such a great villain and character, and his development throughout the series is amazing

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Great review!! I’m glad you pushed through and finished and ended up liking it! I also buddy read this series and both Leslie (Book are the new Black) and I loved it!!! Your first quote, the one where Lila described the different Londons, was one of my favorite parts of the book! I actually laughed out loud which is SUPER rare for me 😀

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Okay, how about I actually stop starting this and stopping and really read it fully? lol, good for you for finishing this! I swear I’ve had this in and out of the library about 3 times now and still haven’t done it lol

    Liked by 1 person

  5. YES Vicious is the absolute best for complex villains, it really showcases her strength with characters.

    Yeah, that’s the big hurdle for most folks, which is understandable. The villain is SO GOOD, though, and the conclusion is so satisfying. Well worth if you ask me.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I read this like a year or two ago when my friend bought me the collection’s edition as Christmas gift. I did like it but I never bought book 2. I think I’ll need to buy it when the collector’s edition of it gets published.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I love this review!!! I read ADSOM a year or two ago. I have yet to pick up the remaining books in the series. Like you said, it could totally work as a standalone.

    Liked by 1 person

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