A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Reviewed by Hanah
If you’re a reader interested in magical powers, pirates, and plagues, as well as royalty and thieves, then I would recommend the novel A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E. Schwab. The story is simply wonderful; each character contributes something special to the plot and helps the story be truly different from any other book. Some books in the fantasy genre repeat certain character tropes and general plot lines that are well-established, and frankly, boring. I haven’t read anything like A Darker Shade of Magic, and I’m an avid reader!
The story begins when the powers of Kell, one of two main protagonists, are revealed in a flashback: he is an Antari, which means he has the power to travel between worlds. These are Red London, Grey London, and White London. Red London is Kell’s home, and it is a city filled with magic. Grey London is the home to the ordinary human world, and White London is a dangerous place ruled by brutal twins. There is also a fourth London, Black London, and this world was destroyed by black magic, and Kell cannot travel there. To move through the worlds, Kell must have a token from the world he is traveling to, and he must make a portal, or door, out of his blood.
Following this, Kell travels to White London to speak with its rulers, the Dane twins, who go by Athos and Astrid. This pair also controls the only other known Antari, who goes by Holland. As Kell is departing, an older woman stops him and requests that he bring a letter to her brother, who is in Red London. After he returns to Red London, he discovers that he was set up: the letter is blank and assassins are waiting for him. He flees from the scene, and then takes a closer look at the payment he was given. Kell realizes that he was given a forbidden relic from Black London, that someone wanted it to be in Red London, and that he had been used as their pawn.
Then, the assassins find where Kell is hiding, and they get into a deadly fight. Kell barely manages to kill the pair, and he then decides to escape where they cannot follow: another London. He travels to Grey London, which is where he first encounters Lila Bard, who is the second protagonist of the novel. She seems as though she wants to help him out, offering a handkerchief, but once she leaves, Kell quickly realizes that she robbed him of the black stone. Using magic, Kell is able to easily track her down, and he attempts to steal back the stone. He initially fails, but after Lila attempts to use the magic of the black stone, he is able to gain the upper hand and escape with the relic.
Holland, the other Antari then confronts Lila and demands to know where Kell is. Lila insists that she doesn’t know, and that the two of them are not friends in the slightest. Holland then attacks her, demanding that she call out for Kell, who does eventually appear. The two Antari fight, Kell ends up badly hurt, Lila renders Holland unconscious, and then the unlikely pair flee the scene. After doing so, Kell and Lila come up with a plan to get rid of the stone by putting in back in Black London.
The two leave for Red London, so that they can find a token that will allow Kell to travel to White London. Kell plans on using one he had already that he kept in a tavern, but when they arrive, it is burnt to the ground, the work of Holland. Holland then reappears, and Kell and Lila are forced to use the black stone to become invisible so that they can avoid fighting him. Kell’s next plan is to find another token at a pawnshop, a white rook. Kell is arrested once the pawnshop owner realizes who he is, because the royal family, who Kell works for, has declared him to be missing. Lila becomes invisible once again, snatches the chess piece, and sets out to find Kell at the palace.
When she arrives, the celebration is already underway for Prince Rhy’s birthday masquerade. The guests appear to be under a spell, and Prince Rhy himself is being possessed by Astrid Dane. Astrid explains her plans to use the black stone to reopen the doors between the four worlds so that she and her brother can rule over all Londons. Lila attempts to rescue Kell, who is with the prince, but Astrid stabs Prince Rhy, and moves into another body. Kell takes Prince Rhy, who he considers to be his brother, through a door to the place where he learned magic in an attempt to save his life. He ends up using the power of the black stone to bind his life to Rhy’s, meaning that so long as one of them lives, the other will too.
Lila and Kell then begin to travel to White London. Kell is stopped by Holland, who keeps him in Red London and challenges him. Holland is no match for him, since he has the power of the black stone, and Kell kills him. Kell travels to White London, and is attacked by Athos, who attempts to use magic to fight him. It backfires, as Athos summons a snake that kills himself. Lila is on her way to attack Astrid, whose consciousness is still in Red London. Astrid wakes up, renders Lila unconscious, and goes after Kell disguises as Lila. He immediately realizes that it is not actually Lila, and kills Astrid.
Kell puts the two halves of the stone together, and is sent to a dark world where he is confronted by a shadowy figure. Kell prevents this being from taking control of him, and also manages to send the stone into another world, which releases the people of Red London from the spell they were under. After doing so, Kell and Lila return to Red London, explain their story to the royal family, and are pardoned from their crimes. Lila is able to finally pursue her lifelong dream of becoming a pirate, and the story ends with her sailing from Red London’s harbor on a new ship to find adventure elsewhere.
For me, A Darker Shade of Magic was nothing short of magical. The story, the characters, and the settings are all so dynamic that I found myself lost in the pages as I followed the adventures of the characters as they travel throughout the Londons. Even after I managed to put the book down, I couldn’t stop thinking about what would happen next in the story. The story is so engaging that I found I would lose track of time while I was reading the novel.
Fortunately, this is the first installment in a three part series. The story continues on, and it is worth investing time in if you enjoy reading the fantasy genre. To put it simply, V.E. Schwab is a master of her own type of magic: storytelling.