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

(Last Updated On: June 25, 2019)

I almost DNFd this book but I am actually glad that I stuck with it! After struggling for the first several chapters I finally settled into the narrative and wound up enjoying this imaginative fantasy world that Schwab created.

About the Book

Publisher: Tor Books  |  Release Date: February 24, 2015  |  Pages: 401
Genre: Adult, Fantasy  |  Format: eBook  |  Source: Publisher via Newsletter

Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

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.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then 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.

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My Review

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!

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

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.

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

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.

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

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 trilogy!) 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 of 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 it is 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 her work is so coveted. Looking forward to continuing on with this series.

Content warnings: 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!

spacer_wLet’s go on another adventure together!


  1. sammers65

    September 25, 2018 at 9:04 AM

    So I was planning to read this book sometime in November, but your review has made me bump it up on the list to October and I regret nothing.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:17 AM

      Awww that is such a great compliment, and I hope you enjoy it!!!

  2. Meaghan @ Words Gremlin

    September 25, 2018 at 9:10 AM

    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.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:20 AM

      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. 😭

  3. Ally Writes Things

    September 25, 2018 at 1:08 PM

    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

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:22 AM

      I’m glad I wasn’t alone in being like ??? with the pacing. The book overall was so good though so I forgive it.. and Holland man. Book 2 Holland had me shook. Eventually I’ll read ACOL but idk when haha

  4. PerfectlyTolerable

    September 25, 2018 at 1:31 PM

    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 😀

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:23 AM

      Thank you so much, and I am glad you enjoyed the series too!!! That Lila quote had me cracking up as well, she is my freaking favorite (in this book at least).

  5. Lost

    September 25, 2018 at 3:32 PM

    I’m having a similar experience to you! I struggled with the first few chapters and put it down, but am determined to finish this book 😁💚

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:25 AM

      Stick with it, I promise it will suck you in! Happy reading and thanks for stopping by!

  6. Tammy

    September 25, 2018 at 5:32 PM

    I love this series, although I’m behind and still need to read the last book. Glad you enjoyed it!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:29 AM

      I also still need to read the last book, lol. Book 2’s pacing was a little meh for me and I am not overly excited about the 624-page finale lol. Someday!

  7. Anj

    September 25, 2018 at 6:20 PM

    Awesome review! I want to try it but a bit hesitant with the slow pacing. 🙁

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:30 AM

      Thank you so much, and the pacing isn’t terrible. It does pick up and most people I know have adored this series – the characters are definitely the stars here.

      1. Angela

        September 26, 2018 at 7:18 PM

        On my TBR already!

  8. tornpagesandroses

    September 25, 2018 at 9:47 PM

    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

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:32 AM

      Hahahaha, I can see this as a book you can easily start and stop a lot! I hope you do manage to get sucked in and adore it as much as I did! Thanks for visiting!

  9. pinotandpages247

    September 26, 2018 at 4:26 AM

    I can’t wait to read this one!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 26, 2018 at 7:44 AM

      I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did! The writing for VICIOUS definitely sucked me in faster and more consistently, but man did Schwab create an awesome world with fantastic characters!

  10. Meaghan @ Words Gremlin

    September 26, 2018 at 8:03 AM

    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.

    1. Meaghan @ Words Gremlin

      September 26, 2018 at 8:03 AM

      Lmao one of these days I’ll stop accidentally replying to the post instead of the thread.

    2. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 28, 2018 at 4:13 PM

      I am loving Vicious so much and I find myself savoring it because it is so good? Like jesus, I love it. And I was worried because I struggled with the writing in Darker Shade of Magic.

      1. Meaghan @ Words Gremlin

        September 28, 2018 at 4:14 PM

        It’s a very different feel from ADSoM for sure, but I’m so glad you’re liking it!!

  11. Kelly Brigid

    September 26, 2018 at 10:54 PM

    Wonderful review! I enjoyed this one so much, and totally agree about what a well rounded villain Holland is! ❤️

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 28, 2018 at 4:18 PM

      Thank you so much, Kelly! HOLLAND IS LOVE! Which is weird but I’m going with it!

  12. fictionnochaser

    September 28, 2018 at 6:40 AM

    Kaleena. Why are your reviews always so freaking beautiful? please wave your magic wand and give me some of your review writing magic? You could be the blog version of Tinker bell.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      September 28, 2018 at 4:31 PM

      Oh my goodness, Jess/Teagan THANK YOU SO MUCH that is the nicest compliment ever! *waves wand around*

  13. jamsu

    September 29, 2018 at 12:45 AM

    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.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      October 3, 2018 at 7:49 PM

      The great thing about this is that it does work as a standalone! But I do hope you continue with the series someday!

  14. Vanessa

    September 29, 2018 at 7:59 AM

    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.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      October 3, 2018 at 7:51 PM

      Thank you so much, Vanessa! It definitely works as a standalone but also leaves so much room for more fun and seeing the characters grow.

  15. Halloween Creatures Tag 2.0 – Reader Voracious Blog

    October 1, 2018 at 9:17 AM

    […] You can read my full review of A Darker Shade of Magic here. […]

  16. adeleisreading

    October 1, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    I adore your review! It’s actually making me want to re-read A Darker Shade of Magic! 😀 <3

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      October 3, 2018 at 8:13 PM

      Oh wow, thank you so much! You should it is pretty great!

  17. A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab – Reader Voracious Blog

    December 9, 2018 at 9:13 AM

    […] months have passed since the end of A Darker Shade of Magic and I have to say that I loved the beginning! Honestly the first 100 pages that showed what Lila […]

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