A Darker Shade of Magic is the first of the Shades of Magic trilogy by V.E. Schwab (also known as Victoria Schwab). It follows Kell, a magic user, and Lila, a pickpocket and thief who won’t take no for an answer.
In a world full of magic users, Kell is a unique individual. He is an Antari, a rare blood magician. There are are two Antari in all the worlds, Kell and Holland, and only they have the ability to travel between the Londons. Four Londons in four, very different worlds.
Drab Grey London, ruled by insane King George, where magic no longer exists but which many individuals seek to find.
Beautiful Red London, ruled by the Maresh royal family, where magic is prosperous and the country thriving.
Dark White London, ruled by the ruthless Dane twins and where magic is used for life or death.
Unspoken Black London, cut off from the others where magic runs uncontrolled and has nearly destroyed its world.
Kell is officially the adopted prince and ambassador of the Maresh empire in Red London, relaying messages between the rulers of Grey, Red, and White London on a monthly basis. He views magic as a companion, a forever friend by his side. While fulfilling his duties, Kell also indulges in the illegal work of smuggling objects between the different worlds. He takes pleasure in collecting small treasures as payment. At his brother Rhy’s insistence, Kell gives up his smuggling – only to find himself accepting one last, seemingly innocent request and payment while in White London.
Soon, Kell finds himself inevitably caught up in a plot to overthrow Red London. Wanting to right what he has done wrong, Kell reluctantly accepts the help of Lila Bard, a pickpocket and thief from Grey London. The two find themselves in possession of a stone, a relic of Black London that does both wonderful and terrible things to Kell’s magic. Kell is forces to make choices that may end with his life, but the only alternative would be to do nothing and watch his home fall.
A Darker Shade of Magic is everything I like in a story; magic, character development, and two characters who share a platonic relationship. Though sparse in descriptions of other forms of magic, Schwab does a wonderful job of focusing on the Antari brand of magic and its uniqueness. A good bit of the book focuses on Kell’s struggles to contain Black London’s influence on his magic as well as his growing frustration with Lila (which is a good kind of frustration because Lila is quite a character). He grows a bit throughout the story, from a young man who is just a bit vain and arrogant about his magic to one who almost fears his own abilities. He becomes more humble and wary of what magic can do and the price it demands.
Lila is a nice foil to Kell, a young girl who has had to struggle to stay alive her who life, one who shows a potential for magic but would rather live by the knife and fist. She doesn’t let the fact that Kell is superior to her in nearly all things get her down; she is more than capable of standing up to Kell and pushing back. I love how the pair share a deep understanding and relationship but, other than a couple of kisses for luck, never deviate into the romance. Schwab does a fantastic job of writing two characters who can be more than mere romantic partners – she writes characters who can be actual equal partners.
I am really looking forward to continuing with this series and seeing what happens with our characters. I just know we haven’t seen the last of Black London.
My rating: 4.5/5