Off the Shelf: A Review of A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

This is one of those times where you might say, “That series has been popular forever! Why are you just now reviewing it?”

To be honest, I don’t have a good excuse, and I deserve a swift kick in the rear for not getting around to it sooner.

I loved Victoria Schwab’s The Archived and The Unbound, and it has always been in the back of my mind that I need to read more of her work (I keep seeing rave reviews for Vicious, so that needs to move further up my to-read pile). When I say she’s ridiculously talented, it’s an understatement. I think it’s even safe to say that she was destined to write. Her workload is impressive, and it seems like she always has a new project (or two…or three…) in progress, but the fandom that has been built around the Shades of Magic series is a force to be reckoned with. I knew one day, sooner or later, I’d need to find out what all of the hype was about. It just so happened that now was that time.

A Darker Shade final for Irene

Summary (via 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.

 

Things I Liked:

I’m not sure why, but I struggled to get started with this book. It’s not that it was boring – not at all – but I found myself only reading a few pages before bed and quickly falling asleep. I wanted to savor the language and the author’s beautiful descriptions, but I felt like I kept losing focus. You might be wondering why this is listed under “Things I Liked” – well, that’s because it actually turned me on to something that I thought I severely disliked: audiobooks. As much as I love podcasts, I have always struggled to listen to an audiobook all the way through. It hardly ever happens. But, when I found myself struggling to stay focused in the first few pages of ADSOM, I decided that maybe I would give the audio version a try. Instantly, I was hooked. If I dislike a narrator’s voice, it often dooms the audiobook for me, but Steven Crossley was magnificent in most regards. I could easily sit back with a cup of tea or a glass of wine and just listen to him weave the story for hours (and that’s exactly what I did). I listened to the book over the span of two days, and I just couldn’t get enough. Schwab’s writing style is so cinematic that every glance, slight movement, and atmospheric difference to the different Londons was completely visible and real in my mind. I plan on enjoying the rest of the series on audiobook as well (something I never thought I would say).

Kell is one of the most intriguing characters that I’ve read in a long time. I love his demeanor, his Antari magic and language, and his devotion to his brother – Rhy (who I’m really looking forward to learning more about in the rest of the series because what little we did see of him is ADSOM was fun and fabulous). Lila wasn’t my favorite at the beginning, but (and this is my one complaint with the audiobook) I want to partially blame that on the narrator making her sound a little too over the top, and maybe she is, but I would have likely read her differently if I wasn’t listening to the audiobook. As the story goes on, and softer sides of Lila are shown just slightly, she started to grow on me.  Her insatiable desire for adventure redeemed her casual thievery and near constant snark to me, and by the end of the story, I couldn’t wait to see what next great adventure was in store for Lila. Also, I fully expect to see more of Holland, the only other Antari, in the rest of the series. I wanted to dislike him, but I just couldn’t, and instead I want to know more about this mysterious, haunting villain (but is he really?).

Huzzah! This deserves a mention – I love a book that can stand on its own without a romantic element being a driving force! I love that, although there are moments that will make you ship certain pairings, there’s really zero romance here. Lila and Kell are present together throughout most of the book, but instead of sticking them in romantic situations, they’re too busy using their ingenuity to save the many Londons. But hey, if that happens to come later in the series, I’d welcome it.

 

Things I Didn’t Like:

There is one thing I will say about the audiobook version…I wish there was a second narrator. Female characters start sounding a bit Monty Python-esque, and I think that factored in to why I disliked Lila at first.

There are parts that may seem a bit draggy and slow, but I’m torn in saying that, because there’s not a single line that I would cut. The world and the characters were so expertly crafted that you end up craving all of the little details and exposition.

Overall Rating:

5/5 It’s an easy five stars from me. I was hooked on everything about the world that Schwab created, and I can’t wait to delve further into its story. ADSOM is strange and beautiful, and it is everything a good fantasy should be. My only regret is not reading it sooner.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Add A Darker Shade of Magic to your To Be Read List on Goodreads.

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