A Darker Shade of Magic – V.E. Schwab

A Darker Shade final for Irene

ISBN – 0765376458
Publisher – Tor
First Published – 2015
Pages – 400

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit. 

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London – but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.

I think it’s pertinent to start this review by warning you: there will be gushy feels. Prepare yourselves.

How was I not on the V.E. Schwab bandwagon earlier? I’ve had her previous books on my TBR since they came out, but never pushed myself to pick any of them up. And then ADSOM came along and everyone was fangirling and I had to know what all the fuss was about. I HAVE BEEN MISSING OUT.

ADSOM (I’m far too lazy to keep typing that long title, so we’re sticking with this) was several kinds of amazing. It’s got magic, it’s got multiple Londons (because one London is definitely not enough to contain the awesome that is this book) and it has two FIERCE main characters that swept off with my heart right from the start – hey! That rhymes!

I’ll spare you a description of the plot – you’ve got the synopsis for that – and instead revel in the glorious London’s Schwab created. Each is so unique; in its people, magic systems and general way of life.

Grey for the magic-less city. Red, for the healthy empire. White, for the starving world.

Grey London grounded the novel with a sense of reality as does our heroine, Lila, but we’ll come back to her. White London was utterly terrifying and nothing like the beautiful, vibrant Red London. Each London is bound together by a common element, however: magic and their reaction to it. Magic has influenced each city differently, ruining some whilst prospering in others. Though even in the vibrant Red, which treats magic with awe and reverence, there are signs of damage from its use. We are taught that magic is powerful – and dangerous. I found this especially interesting as most magical systems are flawless, with there being no consequences for its use. But Schwab shows us worlds where magic is an entity to be both feared and used, but never relied upon. It is, ultimately, dangerous and alive with a desire to consume.

It really was the world building that captivated me in ADSOM. Schwab has covered all possible bases in the creation of her worlds and her people. Her magical systems are flawless, the development of each London as a separate world, each differently affected by the presence or absence of magic, are perfectly planned. We are given reasons for there being so few Antari, and each character that we meet is shaped by the world that they reside in. Holland, Kell’s only fellow Antari is described at one point as walking with grace, like a predator. His every movement a sign of his survival skills in the harsh White London.
Yes, Schwab has definitely thought of it all.
There are new languages used in ADSOM which flow beautifully too. God, I could revel in her world building for days.

But her characters, even they ooze personality. Kell was a solid hero struggling with where he belongs, but my heart lies with Lila. She was feisty and badass and totally morally skewed but I loved her for it. She was unashamedly shaped by her childhood and she doesn’t always do what is right (she admits to enjoying the power of killing, at one point). She’s flawed, and that is why she is perfect. Too often are our heroes and heroines cast as perfect. They’re good because they are good, cut and copy. But Lila isn’t always good. She is motivated to do good things at times, but she also has reasons for doing bad things. She’s an anti-hero at it’s finest. And Kell and Lila’s friendship – what a beauty! I can’t really say there’s a great deal of romance (if any) in ADSOM. It’s truly a book about platonic relationships. I can see room for some potential romance further in the series, but I’m refreshed and relieved that Schwab is taking her time with them and that she focused on the world and the plot for this first novel. I want my characters to truly know each other before they love each other.
The Danes, who are only one of the villains of ADSOM and totally gruesome*. This book is not for the faint of heart! There’s torture and ghastly fight scenes and it’s one heart stopping action scene to the next. Don’t read this if you have a heart condition – it’s exhilarating!

I was, to say the least, enthralled by A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s fast paced, packed with realistic world building and a refreshing step away from the usual YA fantasy/magic tropes. I loved it in its entirety and I can find no faults. You must read this friends, you simply must.
Until then, I am making it my mission to read everything V.E. Schwab has written.

Rating (out of 5):

5 cups



“Aren’t you afraid of dying?” he asked Lila now.
She looked at him as if it were a strange question. And then she shook her head. “Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

*There’s this line that I love from Astrid Dane, that dastardly woman… “The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.” This whole book is seriously full of these creepy lines and it’s just so quotable.


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