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.
Some books don’t hesitate when it comes to throwing punches, and V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is definitely one of those books. This is not something to read if you are feint of heart. The characters are gritty, the situations fraught, and the drama unfolds rapidly and without mercy for your pounding heart.
On Goodreads, Victoria Schwab (or V.E. Schwab if you prefer) promised that ADSOM would include:
–Sadistic kings (and queens)
–A royal who is equal parts Prince Harry and Jack Harkness
–More magic (blood magic, elemental magic, bad magic, etc. etc.)
–Epic magicky fights scenes
–And coats with more than two sides
I want to speak to some of that. Because it is very accurate (almost as if she wrote the book or something…), but I’m not sure what order to go in
Magic, Angsty Royalty, and the Magical Never-Ending Coat…
I think it’s only fitting to begin this review as the book begins… with the wry and brooding Master Kell. I think it’s pretty hard not to fall for our Antari protagonist, so I’m not even going to pretend to be impartial as I write this. I love Kell. He’s honest, adorable, and he’s got a real moral compass in him, which I rather like in a powerful protagonist. I like that Kell isn’t perfect, but he’s trying to be the balance, trying to set things to rights. He doesn’t crave bloodlust and power like some of the other characters in this book, but power still has its sway over him. After all, in real life, no one is impervious to the lustful lure of unadulterated power.
“Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will. But Kell knew it came from the blood.
Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. 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.
As an Antari, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.”
The point is, I really think Kell brings a lot to the story – he’s a good POV too because he knows more than a lot of the other characters do about magic, and helps make sense of the world. And he’s got a freaking amazing and ridiculous magical coat that turns inside out over and over, and is constantly revealing new coats. It’s so much fun.
Of course, he wouldn’t really be complete without his partner-in-crime…
The Cross-Dressing [(aspiring) Pirate] Thief.
“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”
“I apologize for shooting you in the leg. I was myself entirely.”
Delilah Bard is both terrifying and delightful in equal measure. She’s by far more ruthless than you might assume one of the “good guys” should be, but isn’t evil by any stretch of the imagination. Instead, she’s simply who she is – a thief who dreams of being a pirate and won’t hesitate to strike if she sees an opportunity to advance in the world or accomplish what she’s after.
Despite her cutthroat attitude, i really do love Lila. She’s just such an honest character, and I like that she’s neither fully good nor fully bad. She’s complex, and that works for her.
“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
An interesting point to mention is that despite the clear and dramatic romantic tension between Kell and Lila, there really isn’t very much of a romantic subplot in ADSOM. Schwab delicately balances the feels with plenty of build-up and tension, and includes just the right amount of follow-through to keep you interested and invested for whatever book two is going to bring. I really respected that. This is a book series you can dive into without worrying that a romantic subplot is going to bring the whole plot to its knees at any moment. There many be a romance developing, but it’s sure as heck not going to take center stage anytime soon.
The (Plural) Londons and Sadistic Kings (and Queens)
The stage of ADSOM is AWESOME – plural Londons gives readers a chance to feel at once familiar and estranged from the setting – you’re constantly discovering new things while also getting glimpses into more commonplace ones. Grey London (our world a couple of hundred years ago) is pretty dull compared to the vibrancy of Red London and the terror of White, but it provides a great context for the other worlds, not to mention Lila comes up out of Grey London, and she’s hiding plenty of unexpected things up her sleeves, so go our world for producing someone like her!
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
I won’t delve into the sadistic monarchs because I want that to be something you can relish on your own, but man, does Schwab deliver some grade-A baddies for us. These are characters that make you convulse and cringe and grip the pages until your knuckles turn white and you want to chuck the book across the room just to keep from finding out what they’re going to do next.
More Magic (of the blood, elemental, bad, and out-of-control varieties) and Epic Magicky Fight Scenes…
“Word of mouth was its own kind of magic.”
This is a vibrant story full of magic and mayhem and everything else that goes into making an adventure a ton of freaking fun. If you like fantasy or magic or really just good books in general, this is one you should definitely plan on purchasing ASAP.
Rating: 5/5 stars
What’d you think about A Darker Shade of Magic? Did you love it? Who’s your favorite character?? If you haven’t read it, what makes you want to?