A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Genre: Fantasy / Young Adult
Publisher: Titan Books, 2015
Synopsis: Most people only know one London; but what if there were several? Kell is one of the last Travelers magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons. There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. But once upon a time, there was Black London…
I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of parallel universes, or the multiple worlds theory, so what better than to read a book about four parallel magical London’s? I had heard so many great things about this series, and about V.E. Schwab in general, and as a result I was keen to give A Darker Shade of Magic a go.
So, after about two months of promising to read and review it, I have finally completed it. And I loved it!
I was hooked right from the beginning, mainly because V.E. Schwab’s writing style is great. It’s detailed, yet doesn’t overload you, keeps the story moving and has a great balance between action and the character’s thoughts. Yet the real winner here is the world-building. It’s fantastic. London is such a vibrant landmark, full of history and a mix of cultures. It’s the perfect city for magical alternate realities. Probably the only other city that could pull this off would be Paris, but London is the true winner.
I loved the clear differences in the London’s. The dingy mysterious London of the 1800s that we all know and love. Vivid, floral Red London. Dangerous and bleak White London. And then Black London, consumed by magic. I have to say, probably White London interested me the most because it was so creepy, along with the stories surrounding Black London, but Red London was also pretty interesting in its own right; it just didn’t have that scary-factor that I love. The four cities were definitely the highlight of the book and I loved learning more about them. I can’t wait to dive back in again whenever I get to the sequel.
Now, what about the other stuff? Characters and plot?
Well, I did like the characters, but they didn’t entirely capture me like others have. They were just fine. I have no complaints. I would have perhaps liked a little more development around Holland’s character, however, as he was interesting but I didn’t totally understand him or his motives. The same goes for Lila. I felt that her character arc needed to be fleshed out a bit more. She went from being all “I don’t care about anyone but me” to “I’ll risk my life to save Kell”. I knew that was the logical progression for her, but I never really saw the gradual change as it was a bit too sudden.
Kell, Rhy and the Dane twins were probably my favourite characters. Kell felt the most rounded, with lots of different sides to him. I couldn’t quite put my finger on who he really was, but not in a bad way; he just had a mystery about him. Rhy was witty, flirtatious and fiercely protective, and I’m interested to see how prominent a role he plays in the next two books. As for the Dane twins, they were interesting villains. Brother and sister twins is a trope I like in books, especially if they’re a bit evil, and Astrid and Athos definitely fulfilled that. Their mixture of strength and hunger was captivating.
However, I did have a few issues with the book, hence why I dropped a star in the rating. First off, the language was so inauthentic for the 1800s. No one in London in that time would use words like “okay” or “sure”. The words and the sentence structures of the dialogue were just too modern and American and it could be quite jarring. I don’t think you need to make your dialogue 100% authentic for the time period, as I know that can be a difficult task, but it seemed a bit like Schwab hadn’t even tried. Also, I can get behind the idea that maybe in Red or White London people might use “okay” because we don’t entirely know what time periods they’re supposed to be set in, but Lila Bard would definitely not be using those words or sentence structures, being from pre-Victorian London.
If you want to see a good example of just how people spoke in those times, then check out this clip from Ripper Street. The dialogue is very authentic and the script writers did a lot of research to make it so. Plus, Ripper Street is set in the 1880s-1890s, later than A Darker Shade of Magic in Grey London, and the way people spoke was still very wordy and formal.
As for the plot, whilst it was mostly sound and very captivating, it did have its issues. Firstly, I didn’t like the book being split up into sections of about four-five chapters each. That was something else that felt jarring to me and was unnecessary as the next section would pick up where the first one left off; there was no jump in time to warrant it.
Secondly, this isn’t really a spoiler but if you don’t want to know anything that happens, then skip this section: but there was a big inconsistency with a spell used. When Kell and Lila become intangible at one point, they’re described as being unable to even touch each other. Yet a few paragraphs later, they’re described as holding onto one another as they walk the streets. Also, Lila can’t pick up an apple, her hand going straight through it, but can hold a pocket watch. I thought the inconsistencies here would be glaringly obvious to author, agent, editor or proofreader. It’s just a small thing at the end of the day because it didn’t really ruin my enjoyment, but it’s quite an obvious and slightly annoying mistake.
So, those reasons are why I dropped a star from my rating. Without them, it would have been a 5 star read for me, and overall I did really enjoy it. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next, especially because this book felt like it could have happily been a standalone, so I’m intrigued to see how Schwab carries it on without the next couple of books feeling a little unnecessary. But all in all, I really liked it. Excellent world-building, interesting enough characters and smooth writing.
Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? Did you like it? Dislike it? Do you agree or disagree with any of my points? Have you read and enjoyed any of V.E. Schwab’s other books? Let me know in the comments below!