A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab
Published by Tor Books
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
For fans of: Magic, Cutie-pie MCs and their flirty brothers, LONDONS (plural), Cool af coats.
My rating: 3.5 stars out of 5
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.
Look, I just really want Kell’s coat
If you take a look at my reading progress of this book on GR, you’ll see that I picked up once before last July, and then put it back down after about a chapter. I just wasn’t in the mood for a story of this kind at the time, so it made no sense to push through it.
I picked it up again on the 28th of January, got through 40% of it, AND THEN PUT IT ON HOLD. I’m not even kidding. I put it on hold for two weeks, reread the Mediator series, and then came back.
The point I’m trying to make here is that this book is slow. At least, it was for me. I know people who’ve inhaled the thing. It starts off well enough, and then gradually starts to run low on steam.
I can tell you the exact moment this gained momentum, for me. SPOILER: [The part where the cutthroat wanders into the pleasure house] – 60% into the book. THAT’S when things started getting interesting. I’m not even kidding. From that point on, I couldn’t put the book down.
Yes, that slow.
But was this my only issue with the book? Sadly, no.
The writing, for the most part, was unattached. It tried hard, it must be said, to make me connect with the characters emotionally. But the wording constantly came across as detached and, behind-a-wall-ish. You know, like someone was narrating the story from behind the safety of a one-way mirror or something. Like the narrator was, at best, guessing what the characters were feeling and had no personal connection to any of them to be convincing enough.
Sure, I liked Kell. He was a sweetie. He was righteous, honorable and a little bit of a brat. But I don’t know much more about him than that. Except that I guess he loves his brother? ???
I liked Rhys too. Not a huge surprise considering the fact that I tend to have a soft spot for flirty little shits. But, like Kell, I don’t know much about him. Good prince. Caring prince. A little frustrated by his powerlessness. Sure. But not much else.
Delilah was a little more problematic for me. I love tough heroines. I love heroines that don’t have time to moan and swoon over the hot guys they inexplicably get tangled up with. But… it’s just… Lila’s toughness was very wooden. If that makes sense. I’m sure a lot of people will disagree with me here, but it wasn’t even like she was a vulnerable, sensitive girl only pretending to be tough and cold-blooded. That I could have handled, because that would have meant she had layers. But really, her character felt really robotic. Like someone had programmed her toughness into her and she was just following the code.
My favorite kinds of characters are the ones that are so multifaceted that I can connect random things to their personalities. For instance, I can tell you that Kaz Brekker’s character is like light rain on cobblestones. Sturdy, dark, slick and glistening. I can tell you that Charley Davidson’s personality is like accidental peppermint in coffee.
Can I even try to do the same things with Kell, Delilah et al? Nope.
And if you know me AT ALL, you know that this usually gets me to DNF a book. If I can’t connect with the characters, if I can’t care about them, I just don’t see the point.
So, yeah, this had its problems. But you know what? The story was good. Time-traveling magicians? Good. Plural Londons? Good. Evil villains and a not-so evil henchman? Good. MAGICAL COAT WITH MULTIPLE SIDES? SO. VERY. GOOD.
I enjoyed all of this. I’m not so sure how this could work as a series, since the story felt pretty much done by the end of this book. But the fact that the story picked up towards the end has me intrigued. I will be reading the sequel.