Title: A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)
Author: V.E. Schwab
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Published: February 24th 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
My Rating: 4.5/5 Stars
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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.
First Line: “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.”
General Thoughts (non-spoiler)
I have heard amazing things about this book and I wasn’t expecting anything less, especially after reading Vicious by the same author. However, at the beginning of this story I felt confused. To be honest, I was confused for about the first hundred pages and then at some other points throughout. There was just so much to take in about the worlds in which this book is set and the reader is thrown right into the midsts of it.
Saying that, this novel grew on me over time and it excited me. I spotted a few of the plot twists ahead of time but not many, and I was definitely not expecting the story to end up like it did! I absolutely love it when a book, like this one, catches me by surprise.
Overall the writing was great and the premise of this story is equally as fantastic. The most stand-outish part of this book, for me, was its characters. I enjoyed Kell but would definitely like to find out more about him in the next book, we’re only just scratching the surface with him. Lila, on the other hand, is an absolute gem among literary characters. She’s strong, sassy and has a good heart. She’s definitely one of my favourites (along with my new spirit animal).
I cannot wait to get my hands on A Gathering of Shadows and find out if any of my theories about the characters and story are correct.
Review (contains spoilers)
Now, lets get into the exciting part.
As I said before, the beginning of this novel definitely confused me because so much is going on! We are introduced to Kell, who is an Antari. Antari’s are blood magicians with the ability to make doors (portals) into other worlds – they’re also a dying breed, only Kell and Holland are left. However, these portals can only be created to and from parallel worlds. In this book, there are four different London cities in different worlds, which have some similarities together. Firstly, there is Kell’s London – Red London. Red London is a place where magic is strong and people treat it with respect, as if it were an equal. Then there’s Grey London. This London is the one in our real world, as Kell mentions that it is in England. This is a place with very little magic and not many people there believe in such a thing. Next is White London. Magic flows freely through this city as well, but it’s different from Red London. Here, magic is controlled and those who have magic are in control, powerful – not exactly a nice place to be. Finally, there is Black London which is alluded to by Kell throughout the story. This London, to everyone’s knowledge, had been destroyed long ago – something to do with the people there becoming too greedy with magic and using it for dark purposes. There used to be doors connecting each world that anyone could pass through freely but they were closed off after the demise of Black London.
Ooft, a lot to take in, right? The first one hundred pages for me were spent trying to understand how this world works, and trying to get to grips with all of the different elements it offers. When I finally started understanding what the hell was going on, I really began to appreciate how well this world is built – such a novel idea! The way each of the different London’s were described, all with their own specific characteristics, gave me a clear and vivid image of how they would actually be if they were real.
Okay so, returning back to Kell. Our protagonist is an adoptive member of Red London’s royal family, and is used by them to pass correspondence between royals of different worlds. Although Kell’s adoptive family shower him with love, he feels like a possession to them. This actually shocked me a little. The fact that Kell feels he is only kept around to pass correspondence is absolutely heartbreaking and made me sympathise with his straight away. Around this time we also find out about Kell’s memory being wiped when he was a child – I actually almost forgot about this since it’s only mentioned slightly at the beginning of the novel. Kell doesn’t know who his true parents are and believes that it was his adoptive parents who cast this spell on him, even thought it is illegal. This leaves so many questions open for me and makes Kell’s bitterness towards his adoptive family way more understandable. I hope we find out in the next book more about Kell’s past, who his family really are, and then dig deeper into his character. Although he was one of the main character’s in this book, we don’t actually know him. He seems quite guarded, or maybe I just feel that way because we haven’t found out much about his past yet. Even though I’d like more development of Kell in the next book, I still thought his character was great. He’s incredibly loyal and would do anything for those he loves (which is proven later on in the book).
Although Kell officially takes letters to and from each London, on the side he is a smuggler. This caught my attention immediately because our main character isn’t completely good, y’know? He goes against the rules, it is illegal to transfer items through to different worlds. This side job is what gets Kell into trouble, and this trouble then becomes the main storyline of the book.
One day, after Kell has delivered a letter to White London – and been basically assaulted by its power hungry king and queen, Astrid and Athos – he is tricked into taking a parcel back to his London which contains something dark but highly sought after inside. I feel like I should have seen this coming, damn my naiveness. Anyway, after smuggling the item back home, he is attacked by two cutthroats attempting to steal the package. Inside it is a dark magic stone – Vitari – from Black London, which should have been destroyed along with the rest of that city hundreds of years ago. Kell knows the stone is dangerous but he uses it anyway to fight off his pursuers and escape, using blood magic, to Grey London where he should be safe for a while. For me, this was when I actually started to realise how gruesome and dark this story would become – which was something I wasn’t expecting but welcomed.
When Kell arrives in Grey London he’s a bit out of it and severely wounded. This is when a random stranger comes over to him to check if he is okay, and dab away some blood with a handkerchief. Well, this is a random stranger to Kell, but not the reader. We know exactly who this girl is – Delila Bard, pickpocket, and she’s just stole Vitari. Poor Kell, this is literally the day from hell.
I freaking love Lila, she’s definitely just become one of my favourite female characters. Lila has had a difficult past; no family, lives on the streets, has a glass eye (DID ANY OF YOU SEE THAT COMING?! Haha see (((sorry, I tell terrible jokes)))), has aspirations to become a pirate and steals so that she is able to feed herself. She’s dreamed of adventure all of her life and is determined to get it one day, as soon as she can afford a ship to sale the seas.
After Kell realises he’s been robbed, he uses a form of locator spell on Lila’s handkerchief and creates a door straight to her. Lila is obviously surprised but Kell faints from exhaustion pretty much as soon as he walks through the door. When he wakes up and tells Lila why he needs the stone back, she begins completely screwing with him – conjuring up a knife and another Kell to strip naked. I was genuinely howling with laughter at this point, Lila is just so sassy and her witty remarks are a real highlight in this book. Kell ends up using magic to get away from Lila, and get the stone out of this world, back to where it belongs.
Lila discards the knife she conjured up with Vitari because of the darkness she could feel within it, she knew no good would come of using it. A drunk man, however, finds it and when he picks it up, he can’t let go – just like what happened to one of Kell’s original pursuers. The man’s veins start turning black as the magic in the knife literally takes control of his body and makes him stab himself. This chapter was so creepy and gave me the chills. The magic from the stone is almost like a real person, it has thoughts and can carry out actions whilst inside a body, this actually reminded me a lot of the Endarkened warriors in TMI. Along with creeping me out, this confused me. I didn’t understand how this magic could function like a human and be passed on to multiple people. It all became clearer to me towards the end of the novel but these random little scenes where Vitari was jumping bodies definitely left me perplexed.
Lila then finds herself in a tavern where she meets Holland – the only other Antari. Holland is bound to the White Royals and is clearly such a complex character. Hopefully I will be able to find out more about him in later books (and maybe that he’s still alive? After all, it’s difficult to kill an Antari). Holland drags Lila outside and starts torturing her until Kell shows up, which of course he does. Lila then escapes and Holland begins torturing Kell, but Lila comes back to save him, just like he did for her (plus, she hits Holland over the head with a poll, which is awesome). This is actually quite a pivotal moment for Lila and her character development – this is when she begins to show her softer side and that she does have the ability to care for other people.
Flash forward and Kell and Lila have made it through a door to Red London (Lila using Vitari to help her through). This is when shit really hits the fan (if you don’t mind me saying so). Kell needs to go to his room in the local tavern to pick up a token to be able to travel to While London, but when he arrives Holland has burnt the place down, along with the people inside. We also see Vitari in another person’s body, thinking to himself that he needs to jump body soon as the current one is decaying. This is when we observe Ned again (the magic enthusiast who wanted a bag of Red London’s dirt from Kell in the beginning of the story). This scene was a bit strange and I’m almost certain that Ned will work his way back into this story in the next book. After this, Kell and Lila go off in search of a White London token and end up in a sort of dodgy pawn shop? Anyway, the man who owns this shop doesn’t particularly like Kell and – because Kell has been reported missing – he alerts the Red Guard as to where he is. When they show up, Lila veils herself with Vitari, Kell is escorted out and one guard stays behind to reward Fletcher – the shop’s owner. Instead of receiving payment, though, he gets his neck slit. Outside, Kell has just been drugged by one of the other guards. I swear to god I nearly chewed all of my nails off reading this section! It was so intense and such a curve ball, I had absolutely no idea what to expect of what was coming next! [OMF I INTERRUPT THIS POST TO INFORM YOU THAT THE DELIVERY GUY JUST CAME AND NOW I HAVE LADY MIDNIGHT. IT’S MASSIVE, BUT BEAUTIFUL OH MY GOSHHHH].
Ahem, back to A Darker Shade of Magic then… When Kell wakes up, he’s in Rhy’s room, handcuffed. It doesn’t take him long to realise that the man before him isn’t his brother, it’s Astrid – the psycho Queen of White London. She has invaded Rhy’d body with some form of illegal spell and has possessed the Royal Guard along with Kell’s adoptive parents. Astrid demands Vitari from Kell, informing him that her brother, Athos, has the other half. After Kell declines, Lila shows up (stealing an invitation to Rhy’s birthday ball and borrowing clothes from a woman in a market stall). I know Astrid is crazy but I genuinely didn’t think she’d try to kill Rhy but I was wrong, of course. I have too much faith in people. She pulls the possession necklace from around Rhy’s throat and then stabs him! She stabbed him! Like right through the middle, stabbed him! I’m sorry, I just found this so shocking and dark and gruesome.
Kell and Lila fight off the possessed guards and drag Rhy’s dying body through a door to a safe sanctuary in Red London, where he dies. This was sad and sure, I was upset for Kell but I didn’t feel too emotional about Rhy’s death. UNTIL KELL BOUND HIS SOUL TO RHY’S IN AN ATTEMPT TO SAVE HIM (TMI feels, anyone??). There must be repercussions for this in laters books, there must be, especially since, now, if Kell gets hurt, so does Rhy. I’m actually scared about this. I’m worried and I don’t like worrying about characters that I like (Victoria, pls don’t kill off Kell, pls pls pls. Oh, and for the love of god, never kill Lila).
Kell and Lila leave Rhy in safe hands and then go to make a door to White London – since Lila stole the White London token from Fletcher’s body. Before they leave, however, a man named Tieren tells Lila that she has power in her. I have a few theories about his. Numero uno – Lila is also an Antari but it’s just taking her longer to develop her powers and get the tell tale signs of an Antari because she came from Grey London, where there is little magic. I know this seems a tad unlikely but I’d still like to think it could be true. Secondly, Lila could be able to control elemental magic and bone magic. This seems far more likely and is probably the case. Thirdly, maybe she’s some kind of ‘chosen one’ who has ridiculous abilities that no one else possesses, even Antari (yeah, probs not true, but still).
As Kell and Lila are about to make their way through the door to White London, Holland appears and holds Kell back, but Lila continues and makes it through on her own. A huge elemental battle breaks out between Holland and Kell which is truly epic (I can’t wait to see these types of scenes in the TV show). Kell prevails over Holland, though its clear that Holland gave up just before the end – after all, he is bound to Astrid and Athos and more than likely hates his life. This would be a way out for him. I seriously need to find out more information about Holland! I’m so interested in his back story and how he ended up the way he did. I’m pretty sure I will find out all of this information considering that I don’t think he is dead, not really.
When Kell and Lila both safely reach While London, they devise a plan and then put it into action – Kell also brings Holland’s body back to this city. Kell walks straight through the royal fortress’ front door, none of the guards attacking him since Athos knows that he is coming. When Athos comes to meet him, they begin battling with elements as well as both halves of Vitari. This is such an action packed scene which left me feeling so satisfied, especially when Athos died. The king did not know that if he tried to dispel a – kind of- living entity with the stone, that he had previously conjured up, it would turn on him and attack. Kell knew this though, and that is why he goaded Athos into trying to dispel a snake he had created with the stone, and the snake then kills him.
On the other side of the fortress, Lila is making her way to the throne room where Astrid’s lifeless body is – because she’s still in Red London, possessing someone’s body. When Lila tries to kill her, though, Astrid wakes up and begins torturing Lila. I thought this was it, this was going to be the end of Lila and I was freaking the hell out. Genuinely, I was flipping the page on my Kindle so quickly, just trying to find out what was going to happen next and then, of course, the unexpected happens. Astrid casts a spell to make herself identical to Lila, and leaves her there, injured on the floor of the throne room *inserts red angry face emoji*
Astrid goes to find Kell, disguised as Lila, and I was so freaking proud of Kell when he just killed her right on the spot. Sheesh, of course he knew she wasn’t the real Lila! There is only one Delila Bard. The real Lila then shows up, but Kell still isn’t getting a break. Throughout this novel we’ve seen the effect that the stone has been having on Kell, and now it has finally become too much for him to handle. Vitari takes over his body and then, inside his mind, Vitari is telling him that he’s lost and that there is nothing he can do now that the dark magic has taken over. But Lila is there, and she’s not letting him give up that easily. People shouldn’t be able to fight off Vitari but Kell is strong, and with Lila’s help, manages to dispel the magic from the stone and therefore, out of his body. I can’t even tell you the relief I felt when Kell woke up and was okay. Jeezo, this book takes place over like one day and it’s a hell of an emotional rollercoaster.
Kell knows that they need to leave White London straight away because war will break out over who will become the next ruler. Just before Kell and Lila leave, he sends Holland through a door to Black London with the stone – yeah, Holland is totally not dead. He just can’t be. Then there’s another dilemma. Lila doesn’t have the stone any more so it’s not certain whether she will be able to travel back to Red London, which was also quite upsetting. But Lila is strong, and she makes it through, to Kell’s utter amazement. This didn’t shock me entirely though because I have that theory about Lila being an Antari, which would definitely explain how she could make it through that door.
The moment Kell realises Lila is safe and still with him is such a sweet moment and is probably my favourite scene in the book:
And then he heard a voice. Her voice.
“Never thought I’d be so happy to smell the flowers.” Kell blinked and spun to see Lila standing there. Alive, and in one piece.
“It’s not possible,” he said. The edge of her mouth quirked up.
“It’s nice to see you, too.” Kell threw his arms around her. And for a second, only a second, she didn’t pull away, didn’t threaten to stab him. For a second, and only a second, she hugged him back. “What are you?” he asked, amazed. Lila only shrugged.
But, obviously, since this is the day from literal hell, they are both arrested moments later because Kell has been charged with the murder of the prince. When he turns up to the palace, he explains everything that has happened to his parents and everything is sorted out, including the charges against him.
A few days later, Kell visits Rhy and we see that he is completely fine and will heal over time. Lila also turns up and Rhy starts flirting with her, which was pretty funny, but no. I majorly ship her and Kell. The story then ends with Kell and Lila parting ways – Kell going back to the castle and Lila going off to find herself a ship – with the knowledge that they will see each other again.
This ending definitely left me satisfied and I absolutely loved that Kell and Lila didn’t get together. I mean, obviously I ship them so I’d like to see them get together eventually, but for right now I’m happy that Lila is sticking to her guns and going off to find a ship and fulfil her dream. Plus, she’s that badass that she doesn’t need a man.
So yes, overall I thought this was a great novel and I’m definitely excited to read the next instalment, A Gathering of Shadows. I’m not too sure about where this trilogy is headed but I presume Holland will show face again, Ned will pop up again as well, Lila will come into her power (be that as an Antari or just regular magical powers like everyone else in Red London) and then Kell will probably find himself in Black London at some point anyway. Maybe the doors between worlds will be re-open one day? Who knows, but I’m excited to find out 🙂
Characters: 5/5 Stars
Plot: 5/5 Stars
Ending: 5/5 Stars
Originality: 5/5 Stars
Cover: 5/5 Stars
Favourite Quote: “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Ps) I need to apologise for how shitty and inactive my blog is going to be this month. I have so much uni work and it’s stressing me out; five assessed presentations, three exams and four 2500 word reports/essays and there’s probably more to come :((( I have a stockpile of pictures waiting to be uploaded to my Instagram though, so I’ll be way more active and responsive over there (@omgbibliophile). I promise I’ll make up for my absence next month! Omg, guys, I won’t even be able to read Lady Midnight or DIMIMY for agessssss *cries* 😦
Pss) I didn’t make any of the little illustrative pictures I’ve dotted throughout this post (lol I can’t art) – I always feel the need to add more pictures when I write super long reviews to break up the text – but the photographs are allllllll mine 🙂
Psss) Please tell me in the comments whether or not you think I should shorten these long reviews or not. Sometimes I just feel like I ramble on forever and talk about stuff that no one even cares about lol.
Thanks for reading,