Hi. Welcome to Kyrosmagica.
Time to do a review, what’s on the cards today? A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, that’s what.
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.
I’m a huge Victoria Schwab fan so I was expecting to love A Darker Shade of Magic and I was not disappointed.
There are so many appealing elements in this novel:
Magic, of course!
Kell’s fabulous coat.
Kick ass heroine.
Well crafted villians.
A magical stone.
Cross dressing girl dressed as a sea Captain.
Soul seals! You need to read the book to find out what these are!
TIP: Be aware that this is one of those books that you have to allow time to develop as you read. It starts off with a fair amount of detail about the magical world, introducing the reader to the contrasting world of the different Londons.
Sense of smell is used in a very interesting way to convey the different qualities of the Londons.
Black London is “the lost city,” that had to be sealed off from the other worlds.
After Black London fell the doors connecting the Londons were closed: “Now only the Antari possessed enough power to make new doors, and even then only they could pass through them.”
Grey London is the magic-less city. When Kell, our fabulous protagonist with his very peculiar coat. “It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two which would be expected, but several, which was, of course, impossible. When Kell inhales the scent of Grey London he smells smoke.
Red London is where everybody learns to understand magic, it’s the healthy empire, Kell’s home. Red London smells to Kell of home, but to others it smells of flowers.
White London’s magic is savage It is the starving world, which smells of blood. In Grey, read and white London there is,
“A fixed point,” The Stone’s Throw tavern, though In White London this establishment is called The Scorched Bone.
In this world there are only two magical Antari left: “Now, Kell and Holland seemed to be the last of a rapidly dying breed.”
“And Antari could speak to blood. To life, to magic itself.”
But the characters of Kell and Holland couldn’t be more different. Holland is under the control of the King and Queen of White London, Astrid and Athos Dane whose palace is a fortress with a stone forest of people, that they are rumoured to have killed. Don’t doubt it – these two rulers are EVIL, EVIL, EVIL!!
Holland may be living and breathing but he is under the control of Astrid and Athos : “It was a voice (Holland’s voice) like a shadow in the woods at night. Quiet and dark and cold.”
When Barron and Holland have a confrontation, Victoria Schwab enriches the story by using the sense of smell once again: “Holland smelled of ash and blood and metal.”
Kell shouldn’t be moving between the London’s collecting trinkets but it seems he can’t help himself. He is an adventurer and his princely brother Rhy warns him, “Transference is treason.”
Kell is such an engaging character, poor Kell, he doesn’t really belong, in fact he seems to think of himself as an object: “I feel more like a possession than a prince.”
Though he is fiercely fond and protective of his princely brother Rhy.” Kell has lived in the palace of red London since he was a young boy but he has been marked by a spell that makes him forget, “he suspected that the king and queen themselves had sanctioned it.”
Even in red London Kell’s one black eye, “Marked him always as other. ” Kell’s blood, when paired with the token (given to him by King George), allowed him to move between the worlds.
The story really cranks up a huge notch when we met Lila Bard, she is most definitely my favourite character in A Darker Shade of Magic: “Lila Bard lived by a simple rule: if a thing was worth having, it was worth taking.”
When we first meet Lila she dresses as a man, and nicks a watch off a gentleman. She loves the thrill of living dangerously. Delilah Bard wants to sail away on a pirate ship. She has a wise side to her brought about by her daily life in the school of hard knocks, she sees that “you (Kell) may want for things but you need for nothing.”
The owner of the Stone’s Throw, Barron, appreciates her qualities and seems to have a soft spot for her. Kell takes a while to truly understand Lila: “And for the first time, Kell saw Lila. Not as she wanted to be, but as she was. A frightened, albeit clever, girl trying desperately to stay alive.”
Kell is in possession of the Black London Stone, this Talisman transfers hands many times but Kell is initially divested of it by none other than Lila Bard herself ! She has a moral code of sorts so she doesn’t steal from him and leave him empty handed she leaves behind a token, her kerchief.
This stone in the wrong hands could have disastrous results. The adventure really livens up when Kell and Lila attempt to take the stone back to Black London.
“I’m not going to die, ” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”
Her smile widened. ” Everything.”
There are so many wonderful quotes that I have incorporated into this review but this one is my favourite of all:
“Delilah bard had finally escaped, sailed away. Not with a ship, but with a stone.”
**** Spoilers Below ****
Though I loved this book I did find some difficulties with some of the events towards the end of the book. Holland wanted to die? “It was relief,” that crossed his face. Ok, I sort of got this, he wasn’t his own man he was under Athos and Astrid’s thumb but the way he just kind of gave in at the very last showdown just didn’t seem quite right to me. Also, I was quite surprised by the way in which Lila kills the young guard who is guarding Astrid. The guard asks to die quickly, Lila kills him without hesitating. I realise that she had no choice but I would have liked to see a moment of sadness following his death but somehow she just moves on too quickly and seems a little too brutal for my liking at this juncture in the book. I realise she’s tough, and will kill if necessary but the moral code that she obviously has seems momentarily to have been forgotten. Though I really did enjoy how Kell knew that Astrid wasn’t Lila right at the end “Because she said please.”
Highly recommended for readers of Fantasy, YA, and Magic.
Have you read A Darker Shade of Magic? Do comment I’d love to hear from you.
Bye for now,
Marje @ Kyrosmagica xx