Book review: A Darker Shade of Magic
Book reviews

A Darker Shade of Magic – V. E. Schwab

Release date: 27 February 2015
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Rating3.5 stars

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1) blurb:

Kell is one of the last travellers – magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.
There’s Grey London, without magic and ruled by the mad King George III.
Red London – where magic is revered, and where Kell was raised alongside the heir to the empire.
White London – where people fight to control the remaining magic and magic fights back.
And once there was Black London…

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This was… one of the most interesting books I’ve read for a while. And unfortunately I don’t mean that it’s interesting because of the gripping plot twists. But interesting because if I wasn’t buddy reading this book, or if it hadn’t been chosen as my ‘must-read’ friend pick, or if I hadn’t promised myself that I would finally find out what all the hype was about if it killed me, then I would have DNF’ed it AGAIN.

Yep, again. This is the fourth time that I have started this book. I don’t know what it is about it, but every time I picked it up, it was like this fog came over my brain and each time I care less and less about Kell. (I know, it’s sacrilegious, right?) But each time I start this book, I just read about Kell’s coat and the Stone’s Throw and the idiot magic fanatic who Kell pisses off. And then he would walk through kingdoms and read letters and I just. Didn’t. Care. Now that I have actually finished the book, I know why. Kell is just so bland. His entire personality feels like a mirror – he acts differently depending on who he interacts with. He has this facade that is like his magical coat, where he only shows facial reactions depending on where he is or who he’s with. It’s maddening to watch.

I’d also never gotten past Part I before. I’d never met Delilah Bard before. And to be honest, when I did, I wasn’t all that impressed with her. Delilah comes off as a self-important, ungrateful, bratty teen. Sure, she’s sharp as a tack and lethal with a blade and cutting with her words, all hard angles and cutting edges, and I do like that, but I also wanted to smack her. It’s a tribute to Schwab’s writing that I liked her by the end, because I certainly wasn’t very impressed at the start.

Another thing that I’ve noticed about Schwab, her writing and her world building is that nothing happens by chance – everything is by design. If there’s a character introduced to the story then they will play an actual part. There are no walk in-walk off extras around. Unfortunately, all the characters that I even slightly liked were very quickly… ahh… disposed of!!

One character that I enjoyed reading about (very different from liking) was Holland. He intrigues me, probably in the same way that Victor in Vicious intrigues me. Not in a “you’re a good guy and I want you to win” way, but in a “you’re an interestingly fascinating character – probably bad, but more likely so morally grey that “indifferent and self-interest” comes off as “evil”.

In terms of plot the story is slow. Like, so slow I stopped caring at several points. It took me almost the entire month to read this book, but I smashed the last 110 pages in about 2 hours because that’s when the story finally gets interesting. By way of the end of book 1, there’s certainly no cliffhanger. If anything, it could really have been a stand-alone book, which intrigues me more than the characters. Was this originally supposed to be just one book? If so, the ending felt kind of rushed, while the start felt… well, lacking. But after having read Vicious last year, I kind of think that might just be Schwab’s style.

The Recommendation

In saying all of this, I didn’t hate the book. While Lila definitely grows on you, Kell becomes more bearable. Also, the end more than makes up for the beginning, but I think I’d be kidding myself if I rated it 4 stars just because it took me so long to get into the story.

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Uhhh… not sure what happened, but it seems like the entire plot of the trilogy got rushed out at the end of book 1… which REALLY surprised me. In fact with all that time world-building and going on about the Dane twins being so formidable and creepy, I was genuinely surprised that they didn’t make it through to the end.

I also imagine this won’t be the last we see of Holland. I do wonder about the relevance of the soul-seal and Holland mentioning he had one with Athos, as to whether Athos is actually dead, or if he can revived. Or perhaps it’s a different kind of soul-seal from the one Kell and Rhy shared, or maybe Black London does something where it separates their life forces, or it’s broken because Holland technically dies but then the magic of Black London revives him. WHO KNOWS. (Probably everyone else who has read these books.)

I am moderately intrigued by Kell’s ‘before’, but it was touched on so lightly I actually forgot about it until I went back to my notes… I’m sure his parents will turn up as someone we’ve already met because that’s a very Schwab thing to do.

And finally, AS IF Lila Bard isn’t a bloody Antari and her eye was removed because it was black and Grey London people freaked out. Honestly I saw that coming a mile away, but I thought it was more like “Lila was born an Antari but because there’s no magic in Grey London then her eye looks normal. The longer she is in other worlds the darker her eye becomes.” because she can see and feel magic the same way that Kell can, right from the start. But when Tienan points out her glass eye I was like . Make it more obvious, please.

Anyway, that’s all my spoiler rant for now. Stay tuned for the next edition!

Until next time, happy reading. Love Meegs x


  • Sam @ SleepySamReads

    That’s funny, the only reason I finished this book was because I was also buddy reading it at the time. I disliked it so much. You’re a little more forgiving with your star rating, I think I ended up rating it 2.5 stars. Great review though! I’m glad I’m not the only one that struggled with it.

    • Meeghan reads

      We’re all coming out of the woodwork now, Sam!! Yeah, I do think I was probably too forgiving… like, maybe I should have given it a 3… but… I’m kind of soft like that!! It’s also why I often come back to books a couple of months after and then re-rate them!!

  • Veronika @ Wordy and Whimsical

    Yes, finally someone else who thinks that Kell is bland as hell! I could not care about him – I tried, because he seemed like a soft character and I do love those, but ffs, he had no personality. He did get better, sure, but he was nowhere near the level of any character I actually like, much less my favorite characters. And Lila, oh boy, I tend to love strong, independent, kind of sassy female characters – and I’d say it’s rare when I actively dislike a female character, haha – but Lila got on my nerves. There’s also a sort of anti-women feel to her, which made me so mad – I read the second book, and I think it got worse not better. Although, don’t take my word for it, because I wanted to read and reflect on the spoiler section, and I am CONFUSION because apparently I’ve forgotten everything, lol. That just goes to show how little I cared about this book and the story. AND I RATED IT FOUR STARS, because everyone else loved it, lol, and I *made myself* enjoy it. Eh. Curious what you’ll think of the rest of the series. Great review!

    • Meeghan reads

      Thanks Veronika!! I actually get the feeling that Lila Bard might be non-binary or perhaps trans, but there’s just no word for it in the 1700’s (1800’s?). I know there are women who feel like women but dress and act like men, but there’s just something about her, especially where she talks about how much better she feels when she is thought of as a man.
      But yes, Kell is a boiled potato. ??

  • Rukky @ Eternity Books

    Amazing review, Meegs ❤ Honestly, now that I think about this, I want to go change my rating. Though, I think that I didn’t mind the slow beginning because I was intrigued by the different Londons and how everything worked. But yeah, it was still seriously slow. Haha, I don’t remember much about Kell, so I guess he was horribly bland. I also didn’t like Lila that much. Everyone seems to love her, and I was just super annoyed with her. I don’t remember if she got better for me. It’s not like she did anything (ok, when she couldn’t resist stealing something? yeah, I hated her in that moment), I just didn’t like her ??‍♀️

    And SPOILERS below

    the eye thing!! i didn’t even notice ??? but you’re so right, and it makes so much sense and i can not believe that i did not see that coming from a mile away!! it’s so so obvious! wow, i’m kind of mindblown right now lol. and yup, i don’t think that’s the end of holland, because that would just be too easy.

    Anyways, great review, and I hope your next read isn’t as…disappointing ?

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