Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city. There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad King George III. Red London – where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire. White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back. And once there was Black London…
Officially Kell is the Red traveller, carrying letters between the monarchs of each London. Unofficially he is a smuggler, a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences. His escape to Grey London leads to a run-in with Delilah, a cutpurse with lofty aspirations, who forces Kell to take her on a proper adventure. But perilous magic is afoot, and an adventure becomes a mission to save all of the worlds.
This book was amazing! I haven’t read a lot of adult fantasy and this made me want to pick up more books in that genre. This was my first V.E. Schwab book and it didn’t disappoint at all.
I thought this novel was a standalone (I tried to not do too much research into it in case I was spoiled). I had no idea that it was part of a trilogy (series?) until I got to the end and realised there were some loose threads that needed to be tied up. However, this book reads a lot like a standalone and I feel completely satisfied with how this first book ended. I think you could definitely get away with reading this one book if you didn’t want to commit to two more books. Seeing the US cover for the second book now, I kind of wish I had gotten the US cover for A Darker Shade of Magic. They look so great together.
The worlds in this book were so great. Each of the four Londons were so unique and distinct from each other. It was very interesting to read about. I did wish that we got to see more of each of the worlds, especially Red London. While we do get to experience Red London from the perspectives of Kell and Lila, I felt like we could have spent longer in that world and seen more of it. The first 100 pages set up the worlds very well, but I thought that the pace was a bit slow at times. Once the book hit the 100 page mark, the plot definitely started to get more exciting and fast-paced. I flew through the book after that and finished the rest of it in just a couple of hours. It contained more violence and death than I had expected but it all worked within the story.
I really liked the magic system in the book. It was interesting to see all of the things that Kell could do and it was particularly exciting when we got to see the different kinds of magic battling each other. Again, I wish we had gotten to know even more about the workings of the elements and magic, and how they’re different from each other. I feel like that needed a little bit more development. However, I can see A Gathering of Shadows (Book 2) having a lot more magic. I thought it was also interesting how magic was personified and was almost a character in the book. The relationship that each of the characters had with magic was also interesting to read about.
Moving on to the characters…I really liked Kell. He wasn’t the most exciting protagonist but I liked the way he was portrayed by V.E. Schwab. He’s an elite magician who is looked up to in Red London, and to some extent the other Londons too, but he seemed like such an ordinary guy. I just really connected with his character. He also has a really cool multi-sided coat that I still can’t picture in my head. Lila, I had a harder time connecting with, especially at the beginning. She was stubborn and headstrong and I was just very frustrated with her. She ignored what people were telling her and just did whatever she wanted to do, regardless of the consequences. That really annoyed me. She did grow on me as the story progressed and I thought the partnership she had with Kell was perfect. I loved the dialogue between the two of them. I’m also glad that there wasn’t really any romance between Kell and Lila. Their relationship was just exactly what the story needed it to be. I’m sure something more will develop between them in the next books though.
I’m excited to see what the rest of the trilogy brings, but I am very satisfied with how A Darker Shade of Magic played out. I’ll have to pick up some more V.E. Schwab in the future because her writing style is beautiful!!