A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab


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.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is such a delightful piece of storytelling. 

It is the rare book that seamlessly combines parallel universes with fantasy (a plus, since the former is more often located in science-fiction), and has all the thrills of fantastic worldbuilding, a protagonist who dons a coat with more than two sides, cross-dressing thieves, an extensive history steeped in violence, and deliciously dark magic.

Every good thing that readers have been saying about A Darker Shade of Magic is (probably) true. A particular highlight – one that is praised time and time again (with good reason!) – is the worldbuilding. The protagonist, Kell, is part of a race of magic users called the Antari, entailing a narrative filled with magic. Based on nature’s elements, the magic system is complex and is a feast for our senses, especially taste and smell, but also comes with the costs and consequences of magic use. And any book that has a magic system that has rules and adheres to them wins brownie points from me.

As well as being able to employ the elements at his will, Kell is also able to travel between the universes. Four universes, four Londons; A Darker Shade of Magic touches briefly on the parallels and similarities of each London, but invests a great deal of its storytelling exploring how each London has its own unique cultures, monarchies, atmospheres, languages, and (more interestingly) prevalence of magic. Schwab is an excellent storyteller, and she flawlessly paints a different London coloured by their personalities, their nuances, and their histories.

The joy of reading A Darker Shade of Magic lies in its vividly imaginative prose. Schwab’s writing expertly evokes a wide spectrum of colours and ambiences; the vibrancy and livelihood of a magical and flourishing Red London, the mundane, magic-less Grey London, the cutthroat and sterility of White London, and Black London – its fate both a mystery and unspeakable. This book will inspire a sense of awe, exercise your imagination and challenge its boundaries, reminding us of the power of storytelling and fantasy.

A Darker Shade of Magic also features a fantastic cast of characters. There’s aforementioned Kell; cross-dressing, sharp-tongued and mysterious Lila; tragic, broken-souled magicians; sadistic kings and queens; and spectacular banter. Although Kell is equal parts magic and angst, I found myself enjoying the latter, particularly since it was an endearing sort. Kell may be one of the last Travelers (and thus special), but the strength of his character was not because he was powerful or possessed abilities that would be otherwise lost. The strength of Kell was the depth of his character – he was kind and just, but also felt a hollowness left by the extinction of his people and was prone to vice and weakness. Lila, too, was a fantastic character that had plenty of wit, ambition, and satisfying character development. Though we don’t know too much about Lila’s past, I expect we will learn a great deal more in the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows. 

The story of A Darker Shade of Magic is simple, but therein lies its beauty: an uncomplicated but exciting and thrilling adventure steered by its excellent characters and incredible worlds. Though the first of the series, A Darker Shade of Magic is a great story and book on its own, whilst has plenty of potential for more – more character development, more stories, and more of the Londons. An outstanding start to, what I believe will be, a fantastic series.

Rating: 3.5/5

Book Information
Book Name: A Darker Shade of Magic
Book Series: A Darker Shade of Magic #1
Author: V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
Format: eBook

A Darker Shade of Magic on:
Goodreads | Amazon | Book Depository | My review on Goodreads


39 thoughts on “A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

    • Schwab’s writing is, indeed, fantastic! And thank you very much.

      4 stars because whilst this book was solid and incredible, it didn’t elicit that WOW or “AMAZINGG!!” reaction from me. And I recognize that is a very personal thing. I love ADSOM, but I prefer Vicious (which DID elicit that reaction fro me)!

  1. I love your review! I suggest you read the sequel if you liked the worldbuilding because Schwab goes above and beyond in that respect (but also because A Gathering of Shadows is such a fantastic book all around).

  2. Okay wow this review is amazing! It’s so detailed and captures everything perfectly! I love the world building in this book, it’s just so vivid and distinct that it’s easy to differentiate each Londons. I can’t wait to read A Gathering of Shadows!

  3. CW, I’m so glad you enjoyed this too! :D Will you be reading A Gathering of Shadows?? :D
    I know that world building was what made this book so amazing for me – plus the characters – I really loved Lila! :D I also really liked that ending – it wasn’t a cliffhanger, but I still wanted to read more! For me, that shows that the book was really good – if an author relies on cliffhangers to keep readers hooked…sometimes, that author’s book isn’t good (there are exceptions of course!)

    • I most certainly will be reading A Gathering of Shadows – and soon, I hope! Have you read AGOS yet? I’ve heard from so many people that have commented that it’s AMAZING. Which makes me more excited. Eeeep!

      RIGHT? I mean, I love cliffhangers in an almost terrible sort of way but you make a really good point!! I think the truly wonderful books (though there are plenty of wonderful books that had cliffhangers) are ones without cliffhangers but made us super invested in the world and the characters? I think that really speaks about how affecting a book is, which is so awesome.

  4. It’s great you loved this one, CW! It was one of my favourite books of last year and I reread it before picking up A Gathering of Shadows. Have you read it yet? Because ALL THE FEELS. You need to read it as soon as possible! The world-building was so well-done and rich, I could gush about it for hours. Lila is a really interesting character and she’s even better in the sequel, but you’ll see. I love her so much! :D Great review!

    • Hi Lucie, and thank you!

      I haven’t read A Gathering of Shadows yet, but at Summer’s request, I immediately placed a request for it in my library! So I shall read it as soon as it comes!

      Even better in the sequel? Oh my, I loved Lila so much, I can’t wait to see more of her. AHHH I’m so excited now! I shall gush to you when I read it!!

  5. Schwab is such an amazing writer. I just love how atmospheric her books are and a lot of it comes down her to world building. I was so captivated by the London’s and the traveling between worlds method was so easy to understand. The highlight of this series so far for me has to be the character though. A Darker Shade of Magic does a great job at introducing Kell’s emotional conflict/inner turmoils towards his place in Red London and A Gathering of Shadows further explores this feeling. Basically you need to get your hands on A Gathering of Shadows because the character insight is just so beautifully tragic and complex. :D

    • Isn’t she just? Oh gosh, her worldbuilding is so on point, I agree. I just love how immersive it was. What really struck me was that Schwab utilizes the sense of smell, which I think is my weakest scent – so for me to feel something from it was just so profound and distinct for me.

      I LOVED Kell’s emotional turmoil! It was just so delicious to read; like angst done right? (Though I usually don’t mind angst that much, since I was a super angst teenager, haha!)

      AH I can’t wait to read AGOS! I’ve heard that it’s even better than ADSOM, and ADSOM has big shoes to fill soooo

    You’re totally on point there re: the simplicity of the story. Having read several of her books, I feel that’s one of the best thing about Schwab’s writing. She didn’t write an overcomplicated magic system (although I love that too :p), an overtly descriptive worldbuilding, or put thousands of plot twists into her story, but it was nonetheless very effective.

  7. I totally agree with you! I really enjoyed this book once I got into it. The writing was amazing (I love Victoria’s style so much!), and I loved all the characters so much. I found the world building hard to get into though – there was so much of it, and I found it a bit confusing. I can’t wait to read the sequel though, because I loved the end half of this! :D

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one <3
    Denise | The Bibliolater

    • Isn’t Schwab’s writing just spectacular? (I’ve brought this up in other comments but:) Have you read her one of her other books, Vicious? I liked it better than ADSOM, and it was easier for me to get into!

      I can’t wait to read it too! ^u^ I’ve already requested it from the library so fingers crossed it comes sooooon!!

  8. YES. I am so glad to hear you liked this so much! I’ve heard nothing but glowing reviews about it from around the blogosphere, so it’s great that you enjoyed it too. :) Definitely going to have to give this a try ASAP. Thanks for sharing and, as always, fabulous review! <3

  9. “This book will inspire a sense of awe, exercise your imagination and challenge its boundaries.” GIRL, I AM SOLD. To be honest, I don’t like *thinking* when I read, but *imagining*? Heck yes.

    And asdfghjkl did you draw your review header? It is GORGEOUS and I am so in love with it!!! <3 <3

    Aimee @ Deadly Darlings

    • Hi Aimee!
      AHH YES! You absolutely must read ADSOM. If it means anything, smell is my weakest scent but this book made me smell things?? (Which sounds funny, heheh.) It’s probably the first book that gauged my sense of smell, so YASSS. You must read!

      I DID! It took me forever to draw the lines (it seems I can get very picky about lines), but THANK YOU!! I appreciate your kind words!

  10. […] A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – How could I write a list and not include this wonderful gem of a book? Four Londons, an angsty magician/dimension traveller, a cross-dressing thief, and all complicated with dark and dangerous magic- ADSOM is guaranteed to be a fantastic and colourful journey. Need I say more? (Goodreads, my review) […]

  11. I’ve been tossing up reading this book and you’ve finally convinced me. The mixed reviews on Goodreads put me off at first. The way you describe Schwab’s wordbuilding and prose makes me think I’ll love it!

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