Blurb from Goodreads:
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
Lately I’ve been seeing a lot of awesome reviews about the Shades of Magic’s third installment and I thought, damn I’ve ignored this series for too long. It’s time to pick it up. Well, now I can definitely see what all the hype is about and where it’s coming from. Everything about this book is marvelous—the plot, the intrigue, the characters, the world-building, the magic system—you name it. It’s all perfect and will no doubt leave you thoroughly impressed by its spectacularity. This book really lived up to its hype!
This is my third Schwab book and I must say, she’s a crackerjack weaver of dark, intricate, magical, and exhilarating stories. Combining magic and darkness, I think, are Schwab’s trademark. You can’t have one without the other. Her ability to build a bitter and brutal world balanced by tough characters is impressively beautiful. Another thing is that her books are free of eye-roll worthy insta-love clichés and I absolutely love that! Instead, Schwab focuses on giving depth to her characters. If you want an amazing fantasy story without the usual love triangles and love at first sights that comes with it, then check out V. E. Schwab.
“Such is the quandary when it comes to magic, that it is not an issue of strength but of balance. For too little power, and we become weak. Too much, and we become something else entirely.”
The story follows Kell, one of the two remaining blood magicians called Antari, who has an exceptional ability to jump between parallel Londons. Basically we have four very different Londons. There’s Grey London that has no magic in it. Red London is magic-filled and is the healthiest among the four. White London is starved of magic and therefore is always hungry for power. And then there’s Black London which was consumed by some sinister magic and was shut-off by the other three. Kell is Red London’s representative and his job is to deliver and take messages from the other London’s rulers. But every time he travels he breaks the law by smuggling trinkets from one London to another. One day he unintentionally smuggled a rock that held dark magic into both Red and Grey London—a mistake that put him and his kingdom in a lot of trouble.
“But the thing about magic,” added Kell, “is that it preys on the strong-minded and the weak-willed and one of the worlds couldn’t stop itself. The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls.”
I’m used to seeing the parallel universe theme in science fiction genre so seeing it used in fantasy and infused with blood magic is a thoroughly new experience for me. I think the word-building is the star of this book. It. Is. Impeccable! Schwab is a master world-builder and she has a way of describing her worlds that I find addicting. Maybe it’s with the way she writes? It’s simple and concise. All without losing the magic that transports me into the scenes. It made me feel like I’m there raking through the dangerous streets of Grey London, taking in the wonders of the Isle in Red London, feeling the menace lurking in the shadows of the cold and colorless White London. I felt like my own world was in danger as the dark magic’s corruption started to spread. That’s the wonderful thing about this book—it’s really easy to envision what everything looked like and how everything happened. It’s very immersive.
And of course I couldn’t end this without talking about the characters because I found myself loving them all—protagonists and antagonists alike—from the royals down to the guards (Yes, I’m looking at Gen and Parrish!). It’s rare to find a book whose characters weren’t just well-drawn but also strangely relatable. And this book, ladies and gentlemen, is one of the rare ones with characters that sticks with you.
Both Kell and Lila are familiar tropes that I’ve seen before in quite a number of books. Thankfully Schwab knows how to handle these characters properly—turning them from clichéd to multi-layered characters. Kell is the usual broody, mysterious, and powerful hero but that’s barely scratching the surface. I think there’s more to him that we didn’t know. I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one who’s dying to know about Kell’s past and all those things he wanted to remember but couldn’t.
“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Lila is your general badass character. She’s a thief who dreams to become a pirate, she can handle her knives, and she may have killed some people in order to survive. She’s the serious and reckless type of heroine but kind of sassy at the same time. And she can be hilarious sometimes with her witty come backs. She did have her annoying moments but still, I adore her and her strength and her unyielding courage. I specifically love how Kell’s and Lila’s personalities compliments the other. Reading about these two was like looking at London’s (all four Londons) greatest team-up. And ooh boy, it’s been long since I’ve actually clapped my hands cheering for fictional characters! Just…what a delight!
“Are you ready?” she asked, spinning the chamber.
Kell gazed through the gate at the waiting castle. “No.”
At that, she offered him the sharpest edge of a grin. “Good,” she said. “The ones who think they’re ready always end up dead.”
I always (Always!) love a good villain—which means they should be really, really bad. Athos and Astrid Dane will give you nightmares. They aren’t just bad, they’re ruthless rulers who takes pleasure in doing horrendous deeds. What’s even more horrifying is the fact that the Dane’s aren’t the baddest! There’s an even darker, crueler, force out there and it’s definitely worth watching out for.
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
The character that interests me the most though was Holland. He was an ass but one I couldn’t fully hate. He was bound and controlled by someone he hate and I can see the light and the darkness fighting inside him which made him such a complex character. It’s pretty obvious that Holland was leaning into the darker side towards the end of the book. But I’m not losing hope that he can be redeemed. A girl can hope, right?
A Darker Shade of Magic is so far the most addicting book I’ve read from Shwab. It got action that kept me on the edge of my seat, an intriguing politics, marvelous magic, a good bromance, a budding romance, and tons of adventures. Really, it’s a total package! It’s the first book of a series but I think everything was perfectly wrapped-up so it has a satisfying standalone feel to it. Read it! It’s one of Fantasy’s best!