Review: A Darker Shade of Magic


I’ve been hearing (as I’m sure you have too) lots of hype about this book and the series so I knew I had to check it out.


So without further ado, let’s review! And prepare yourselves, ladies and gents, this is a long one!




(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.




The politics in this was so much fun. It reminded me a lot of what I enjoyed when reading Truthwitch, but in this case, the different political attitudes and motivations were so much more fleshed out.

  • I loved that the sickly king in Grey London was such a fan of the magic in Red London as he always asked Kell for another coin because he could smell the magic of Red London (described as a floral scent throughout the book).
  • I also loved how the leaders of White London were, along with their world, starving for power.
  • And I appreciated how the royalty of Red London knew how powerful they were that they didn’t much care for the news of Grey London.

aka Red London royalty
I also approved of the different languages that were created, which fleshed out that – yes, these are completely different worldsNot only did we get to read the occasional word of one of Kell’s spells in his language, but we also got Lila’s description of how the languages sounded to her foreign ears. For example, she described White London to sound “gruff and guttural.”

There was a small hint of cultural differences that were introduced when Lila intended to steal some clothing, but the shop keeper was like “Oh, I’ll give it to you, but you can pay me back later.” But Kell explained that the form of payment is different in Red London. So payment was never discussed with this shop keeper so, as far as we know, Lila might have to kill this shop keeper’s enemy or something later down the line. Who knows…


Then there is Kell’s coat that has abundant layers and it was just so whimsical and perfect and I want one. It reminded me so much of Newt Scamander’s suitcase and I adored that aspect of the story.


There was also a big cast of characters and they all stood out from one another, which I really appreciated. It definitely gets dull when you have a bunch of characters being thrown at you by an author, but they all have the same motivations, opinions, etc. In particular, Lila was a fully formed person. I found her so relatable in her imperfections  and loved her for it. She was just such a delight to read. I actually ended up feeling much more connected to Lila rather than Kell despite being introduced to him first. Kell so nicely sums up Lila for us: “a frightened, albeit clever, girl trying desperately to stay alive.”


All of this made V.E. Schwab’s novel so, so refreshing. This is the main difference between a good fantasy and a bad one. If there are no cultural differences between the kingdoms/worlds/factions or no originality to the story, it makes for one dull affair.


I found the magical ability of the stone that Kell accidentally smuggled with him to be confusing. It wasn’t until further descriptions in the later half of the book that helped clear the murky understanding of its power as the “quiet cunning of a thief.” But because of this lack of understanding toward its capacity early on, it created a disconnect between myself and Kell.

It was hard to feel empathetic for him as he became influenced and weakened by the stone upon first using it without understanding why he was feeling that way. Like, “why you complaining, bro? Just put the stone down. I don’t get it!”


It took awhile for me to realize, “oh, that’s why he’s been having difficulty.”

And although I appreciate Kell’s internal dialogue, his love for his brother, and most of the reasoning behind his choices, I still felt detached from him and I’m afraid I’ve walked away from this book with no real reason as to why that was. Perhaps that has something to do with the slow pacing because…

This book was a bit more slower paced at times. This obviously isn’t a fault for everyone, but for me it is. When a book is more faster paced that means it hooks me from the start, action is building quick, and I’m developing lasting connections for the characters. But that wasn’t the case for me at first. Maybe it was that the world-building took such a good chunk of time?

It really took until midway through for me to say… yes, I like this character. Yes, this world has depth, etc., etc. Personally, I really don’t think it should take all the way until 50% through a book for me to go, “Yeah. I get it.” Not to say I wasn’t curious or I didn’t find the idea of four Londons and the unique magic system to be compelling before that (because I did), but rather that I just didn’t have that emotional connection that I crave from books until much later on in the story.


This was so difficult for me to review because I still ended up feeling quite mixed on things. And I am really basing this a lot on my own perceptions of what I thought this book was going to be due to alllll the hype surrounding it. The rating for this was even more difficult to determine, but I think I gave it a fair rating by dropping off a star and a half.

Regardless of my initial confusion towards the “big bad” in this book and having difficulty forming connections to the main character, I think the good elements of this novel (the political dynamics, the diverse cultures, and the large cast of characters) outweigh the bad.

Despite my muddled thoughts that are swirling in my mind, I still intend to pick up the sequel as I am confident that now I have formed connections to the characters and the world, that the future installments will only get better.

And I can definitely understand why this book is receiving so much hype and I do agree it is deserved. I don’t want anyone to mistake my rating for “this book was lame!,” but rather “this book has great potential to be an all-time favorite series.”


Have you read this book?

What are your thoughts?

Do you want to bash my head in with a rock for rating this like I did? (please don’t)

‘Til next time!



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NOTE: All gifs shown were created by me, but feel free to use wherever (just don’t claim as your own)!


12 thoughts on “Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

  1. […] You might already know that while I enjoyed the first book, it left me with doubts, but in this second installment in this series I was completely convinced. The world building was extremely heavy in the first book and I found myself trying to wrap my head around all these Londons rather than forming character connections. In particular, Kell just fell a bit flat for me. […]


  2. Lovely review, Bridget! I get it about the lack of connection – I have to admit that when I first started this series, the slow beginning, long world-building and different point of views kind of made me feel a bit disconnected from the story altogether. As soon as the pace picked up, I felt more and more invested in everything, and I’m happy to say that this gets better in the sequels. I’m so glad you’re going to give them a chance and hope you’ll love them 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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