Holy Hera. Where has this book been all my life?!
A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in a new fantasy series written by V.E. Schwab. It follows the misadventures of Kell, the last of a unique breed of magician that can travel between different dimensions. The London’s of each dimension differ based on their relationship with magic, and when magic from a darker realm hitches a ride to another, Kell’s life plummets into chaos.
But seriously, THIS BOOK! From cover to gorgeous cover, I enjoyed every word of it. The concept, the characters, THE WRITING. All of it was fantastic. And unique. And gorgeous. And brilliant. And ALL THE AWESOME ADJECTIVES!
Onto specifics though…
Let’s start with the writing. The best way I can explain the “feel” of this book is to call it a classic fairytale with modern pacing. The elegant narrative is in a close third from multiple POV’s that gives you the most intimate view of both the plot and all the major players.
Schwab also doesn’t hold any punches. Once Kell makes that first misstep, he keeps on tripping, all the way to the end. Anything that can go wrong, does, and it keeps the plot brilliantly paced, always sprinting forward.
I have to confess that this is my first time reading Schwab, and a quarter of the way through ADSOM, I realized that I would follow this author anywhere, to whatever genre she chose to take on. The writing, the STORYTELLING, is THAT GOOD! So many things go into what makes a good book for me. Concept, Characters, Plot, World, and Writing are the main five. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve fallen in love with books that hit three of the five. But this book had EVERYTHING. The multiple Londons, the way magic worked, the elegant prose, the fast-paced plotting, the complex set of characters, ADSOM was everything I could have ever wanted in a fantasy novel.
I feel like I should clarify here that I think most books are lovable, but writing is a subjective art. And when I judge a book based on the five criteria’s I mentioned above, it’s more on a dial and less of a straight yes or no. So when I say that I’ve loved books that hit 3/5, it’s more so it maxed out those criteria.
But anyhoo, back to the review. Stop here if you don’t want spoilers!
So I guess this isn’t really a spoiler as it’s the first thing you see of Kell, but THAT COAT! I love the coat. I want that coat. And the fact that Schwab opens the story on the coat immediately throws us into the deep end of her world.
“What? You didn’t know this was a fantasy? Well, now you do! Hope you can swim!”
Okay, it wasn’t THAT abrupt, but you get a quick sense of the world and Kell, all within the span of the first couple pages. BRILLIANT!
Side note: There are bound to be numerous Brilliant’s in this section. SORRY!
Moving on, I love how complex Kell is. Much like his coat, Kell has multiple sides. Prince. Ambassador. Antari. Smuggler. And Schwab captures each every one of them beautifully. She also illustrates how important subtle urges like “belonging” are. From Kell’s relationship to his brother, Prince Rhy, to his complex camaraderie with fellow Antari, Holland, and even his affinity for smuggling tokens across London lines, we understand quickly that Kell is searching for that thing/place/person that makes him feel “home.”
Then he meets Delilah Bard, who is one of the most clever characters I’ve had the pleasure of reading. She’s a thief, but she’s far from stereotypical. She has an aspiration to see the world, any world, and have an adventure. She doesn’t want charity and doesn’t really want to be a thief forever (though she does want to be a pirate). Thievery is a means to an end for her, a means to get out of the slums of Gray London. Then she picks Kell’s pocket and finds an adventure that she’s not 100% sure she’ll survive.
The dynamic between Kell and Lila is a brilliant one (told you). Lila gives Kell that sense of “belonging” that he’s been searching for, and Kell is a promise of adventure for Lila. But my favorite thing about their relationship: IT’S NOT ROMANTIC! Their mutual respect and camaraderie has NOTHING to do with sexual attraction or romance and IT IS MY FAVORITE!
Also, Lila outsmarts Kell at nearly every turn. She sees things so complexly, and we see how with the stone. Where Kell simply calls it “bad magic,” she recognizes it as “clever.” And I think this is an important distinction between the two characters, not only setting them up for future plotlines, but also to show how they balance each other. Kell is intelligent, yes. But Lila is cunning. And the two of them together is, yes I’m going to say it again, BRILLIANT.
Another side note: I can’t tell you how excited I am for A Gathering Of Shadows (ADSOM #2 coming in February 2016)! If only because I’m fairly certain Lila is also Antari. She’s missing an eye but doesn’t remember how. We know there’s magic in her, but the telltale sign of the Antari is the singular black eye… Miss Schwab, what do you have planned?
Moving along to antagonists, the Dane twins. I LOVE how Schwab sets these two up. Okay, I love how she sets up all her characters. She shows their motivations immediately upon meeting them, which allows the reader to spend the story guessing what that character will do or how far their power reaches. And I LOVE the fact that we see the undoing of Danes in their first scene as well. The fact that they lead by force, that little detail, is what costs them Holland and the black stone in the end.
GAAAAH!!! IT’S ALL JUST SO BRILLIANT (5)!!!
So there it is, my review for the INCREDIBLE A Darker Shade of Magic by VE Schwab. If you haven’t picked up this book, DO IT! DO IT NOW! If you have, I’d love to hear your thoughts below!