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A Darker Shade of Magic: A Novel (Shades of Magic, 1) Paperback – January 19, 2016
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A Darker Shade of Magic, from #1 New York Times bestselling author V.E. Schwab
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.
"A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale...This is a book to treasure."―Deborah Harkeness, New York Times bestselling author of the All Souls trilogy
Shades of Magic series
1. A Darker Shade of Magic
2. A Gathering of Shadows
3. A Conjuring of Light
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“A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Its plot is gripping. Its characters are memorable. Its setting in four parallel, powerful Londons is otherworldly yet believable. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale that is original in its premise and compelling in its execution. This is a book to treasure.” ―Deborah Harkness, New York Times bestselling author of The All Souls Trilogy
“Compulsively readable...her characters make the book. Just as Kell has layers, Lila is a satisfyingly rich invention...With so many worlds on the map, there's plenty left to discover.” ―NPR
“A Darker Shade of Magic feels like a priceless object, brought from another, better world of fantasy books.” ―io9
“Schwab (Vicious) creates an ingenious set of nesting alternate Londons in this imaginative, well-crafted fantasy. Confident prose and marvelous touches-a chameleon coat, a scarlet river of magic, a piratical antiheroine-bring exuberant life to an exhilarating adventure among the worlds.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review
“A Darker Shade of Magic is smart, funny and sexy ... Schwab keeps the excitement coming with roller-coaster plot twists that establish her as, perhaps, the natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones's contemporary fantasy crown.” ―The Independent
“Fantasy fans will love this fast-paced adventure, with its complex magic system, thoughtful hero and bold heroine.” ―Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
- Publisher : Tor Books; Reprint edition (January 19, 2016)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 416 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0765376466
- ISBN-13 : 978-0765376466
- Lexile measure : 840L
- Item Weight : 13.6 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.55 x 1.3 x 8.15 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #23,821 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on February 11, 2022
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Just a bit of brief plot summary for context. There are four Londons in this novel, and a select few individuals can magically travel among them. These are referred to as Grey London, Red London, White London, and Black London, and they are different in how magic affects each world, in how (and by whom) it can be used in each world (the equivalent of *our* world is Gray London). The action takes place in the first three; no one has visited Black London in quite a long time. Only London is the same in each world; in other worlds, there is no France, for example, and not even a proper "England" in Red London.
The parallel worlds thing has been done quite a lot in fantasy, but I am fine with that. I like the twist here, that one of our two main characters (Kell, more on him in a bit) is not from our world, but is from Red London, where magic is ubiquitous. (Often, in such stories, including those by Guy Gavriel Kay in the Fionavar Tapestry, in Stephen R. Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books, in Charles Stross's more sci-fi-based Merchant Princes series, etc., it is people from our world traveling elsewhere. So it is nice to see a different perspective.) I also like that this is not set in the present day, but instead in the past. So even though theme is familiar, there are some alterations that manage to make it unique.
We have two main characters, Kell and Lila. Kell is from Red London, as previously mentioned, while Lila is from Grey London. Both have mysterious pasts; Kell remembers basically nothing before he was taken in by the royal family of Arnes (the country containing Red London) due to his magical abilities. (He is an Antari, marked by having one normal eye and one that is completely black. There are very few Antari, and they are the only ones able to travel among the worlds. They also have nearly unparalleled magical abilities, in general.) Lila is alone on the streets, making a living (such that it is) as a pickpocket and dreaming of being a pirate with her own ship.
The two of them encounter one another maybe 1/3 of the way through the story and they travel and work together through much of the rest of the book. I wouldn't say their first encounter seems contrived, because there are some uncanny parallels between their two worlds, such as a particular inn/tavern that seems to be co-situated in all three of the Londons Kell has visited, the existence of London and the Thames, etc. Since they both live in London and visit the inn (different Londons and different inns, but eerily the same, as well), it seems they are fated to meet. And their abilities complement one another. Sometimes the secrecy and stealth of a thief is needed, sometimes reputation and magical fighting ability are better suited to the situation. I think they are a good team. There is no romance between them in this book, though it is possible something like that could be set up for the future. Kell's reputation and duties are such that he doesn't seem to be looking for love or to have the time for it (or the trust to share with someone else), while Lila masquerades as a man and doesn't have what would be considered traditional aspirations for a young woman in the society from which she hails. I find the lack of romance refreshing, especially in a mixed-gender pair like this.
The other thing I like about the characters is that they have nice depth. Both have secrets (including a tantalizing one about Lila revealed about halfway through; I can't wait to see where that goes in future books), both have killed (not just in self-defense), both have flaws, both have their own moral codes that might not be exactly the same as yours or mine. And yet, you are still cheering for them, and not just because other characters are worse. Both are quite sympathetic.
Moving on, there is a lot of action in this book and I think it is well-written. It can be difficult to describe magical battles such that the reader can envision everything that happens, but I felt that was not an issue here. (There were also physical battles, weapons like guns/knives, etc.) I felt there were adequate dangerous situations for both Kell and Lila (and some of their associates); although not everything turned out as I expected, neither just skated through. They ran into difficulties, they had to be resourceful. The sense of danger and the well-written fights made me feel like the plot was always moving forward, and at a nice pace, at that.
Speaking of the plot, I felt that it was basically self-contained in this book. There were endings for Lila and Kell. But, there were also some interesting possibilities laid out for future books. I am not yet sure where the overall series arc will take us (presumably we will learn the secrets of Lila's and Kell's pasts in future volumes -- I am not yet enough into volume two to see if that is true); however, there are some interesting possibilities for where things could go in the future.
I also liked the writing. As mentioned earlier, it was especially good during action sequences. But I also thought it was good at setting the scene for each of the different Londons. If you opened the book to a random part and didn't know which London you were in, I think you'd be able to guess based on the setting. And, when you were inside the protagonists' heads, their thoughts were different. They had different personalities, different aspirations, different goals. They were not just two aspects of the author projected onto the page. So that was also done well.
If I had one criticism, it would be that there were a few too many instances of characters being saved from very dire situations or being able to fight when they ought to have been incapacitated. It made for dramatic action, but it was perhaps not quite as believable within the context of the story as the author would have wanted. This is a common issue in fantasy novels, and considering that some degree of magical healing is accounted for here (as well as some consequences), it is not an unforgivable writing sin.
Anyway, on balance, I enjoyed this quite a bit. It was a nice break from the epic fantasy I've been reading lately and I'm glad I picked it up!
Historical Urban Fantasy isn’t something I find very often but I usually enjoy it when I do.
Most people are going to like Kell. And why wouldn’t you? He is a little bit naughty, magical, broody, angsty and tradgic with a lost past. Plus he has a fantastic coat that is actually 5 different coats in one that is added to the magical book items I’d love to have.
And I do like Kell quite a bit but Lila was the character that called to me the most in this. She is snarky, deceptive, innovative, bold, uncouth, impetuous, brave and wants to be a pirate when she grows up. What was not to love?
***Lila wondered, not for the first time, if something was wrong with her. Barron used to say so, but Barron was a bore. Looking for trouble, he’d say. You’re gonna look till you find it.
Trouble is the looker, she’d answer. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first.***
This is set in a slightly different world I like to think of as a sandwich.
Layer one: Grey London ( no magic at all) Lila lives here
Layer two: Red London (Beautiful Red Powerful Magic) Kell lives here and this London is practically perfect in every way
Layer three: White London (Creepy Weird Magic) Something is really amiss in this violent decaying place
Layer four: Black London (Evil Magic Rules Here) Actually this place is so overrun with magic that it has be shut off and blocked from the rest of the London’s so it’s magic doesn’t leak through.
Kell is a rare breed of magic user that can travel between all the Londons. Usually he is a messenger for Royalty between the Londons but that is about to change when a piece of Black London ends up in his hands and it could be the thing that might open up the doors and let the magic of Black London through if he can’t find a way to get it back.
This ended up being a really fast read for me. The set up takes a minute but once Kell and Lila meet we were off to the races and I couldn’t read it fast enough. They have this great chemistry together on the page and no it isn’t what you are thinking there is not really even much of a romance going on between them they are just so different and so they play off one another very well.
***. “What are you?” she asked.
“A monster,” said Kell hoarsely. “You’d better let me go.”
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. “Monsters don’t faint in the presence of ladies.”
“Ladies don’t dress like men and pick pockets,” retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. “What are you really?”
“Tied to your bed,” said Kell matter- of- factly.
His brow furrowed. “And in trouble.”****
Lila really made this story for me. I loved the character that she was just finding out about magic in the world and instead of being reluctant she is ready to jump into this new word doing a cannonball and create as big of a splash as possible.
The piece of magic from Black London was really intriguing and I liked seeing how it was different than the magic Kell knew how use. I really wanted to get a look inside of Black London to see if it was really as bad as they suspect.
When doors ran between your world and mine, and others, and anyone with a bit of power could pass through. Magic itself could pass through. But the thing about magic,” added Kell, “is that it preys on the strong- minded and the weak- willed, and one of the worlds couldn’t stop itself. The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls.”
All and all I really liked this book. Kell is an interesting character and I liked the little hints given for the direction that his story is might go. His past is a mystery but he was raised by the king and queen so one has to wonder if they are part of the cause of his past being a mystery or if they adopted him since his magic would be a valuable tool. Lila’s potential is just as great. For someone that comes from a world with no magic it will be interesting to see what she can do in worlds with it and how much more trouble she can get into.
Rys is Kell’s brother the Prince. They are close and I love the bond between them. Rys got to be the playboy in this book but I wonder if he will get a larger role in the continuation of the series after what happened in this one. I think that man would flirt with a plant if he thought it would sit up and take notice.
***“You are surely not an intrusion,” he said, pushing himself up in the bed. “Though I fear you’ve met me rather out of my usual state of grace. Do you have a name?”
Delilah Bard,” she said. “We’ve met before. And you looked worse.”
Rhy laughed silently. “I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”
“I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was myself entirely.”***
If you are a fan of UF and 19th century London then this could be just what you were looking for.
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"I'm not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here." She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. "I'd rather die on an adventure than live standing still."
Kell is an Antari – a rare magician with the ability to travel between worlds. He lives in Red London – a vibrant place where magic and people both thrive, where Kell is raised by the King and Queen. Grey London is the world that has forgotten all about magic. White London is a world hungry for magic, starving for it, a place leeched of colour. Once there was Black London, but there magic devoured the people, leaving the world dead...
Kell is running a typical message between worlds when he is asked to deliver a mysterious package. He accepts, despite his reservations (and the fact that this is so very against the rules), and is then ambushed upon arriving in Red London. Inadvertently, he has brought a forbidden relic to his world – a relic that could destroy them all. He flees to Grey London and is found by Lila Bard, a thief, wanted (wo)man and pirate at heart.
Together, they must return the relic to where it belongs. Together, they must save the remaining worlds from the curse of the lost one...
I honestly don't know where to start with this review. Because I just love A Darker Shade of Magic and Victoria herself so freaking much. Both are just amazing – brilliant, fantastic, wonderful, magical, vicious... Just... wow.
This review would go a hell of a lot better if I could just get over the blown-mind after effects... But since I don't see that time coming any time soon, I'll just get on with it anyway.
Kell... Kell was a brilliant hero. Brave, good, strong and also so very flawed, he managed to be both incredibly powerful and yet vulnerable all at once. He didn't always make the smart decisions, he focused a little on the whole woe me at times and he was occasionally a little daft – and it all just made him even more loveable.
And Lila was just amazing! Vicious and blood thirsty and obsessed with knives! I mean, this is really just my kind of girl. She was just so cool and funny and sharp and I loved her to pieces. I have my favourite crush in the series – and it's the swashbuckling, badass Delilah Bard.
I loved watching Kell and Lila together – they were funny and brilliant together. There was next to no romance in this book – maybe there will be in the next book, because ships were definitely hinted at, just not fully realised. I'm intrigued to see where this goes next because I just love these two together!
I also really loved seeing Kell with Rhy, his brother. Rhy was just the sweetest – silly and flirtatious and funny, he was so much more than the rich playboy he first appeared to be and I just loved him for that. Plus his relationship with Kell was just so sweet – they really did love one another, despite the brotherly conflicts.
The Danes were bloody terrifying! They literally sent tingles of fear up my spine whenever they were around – they were so damn scary!
As much as I adored the characters, the world just blew them all out of the water. Bloody hell, it's amazing. Just the very idea of these four unique Londons, all so different and so wonderful... Mind-blowing. My mind is officially and irreparably blown. I am just in awe of Victoria. It's hard enough to contrast a single fantasy world – she made three! Three utterly unique, beautiful and horrible Londons – four, if we're counting the lost Black London. Each London was so unique and detailed and amazing. Red London was definitely my favourite – it was the thriving, alive London. Grey London was a magic less, more historically accurate, place ruled by a mad King. And White London...well. Let's just say I'd avoid White London at all costs. I just can't believe how much work and detail Victoria put into these worlds and I just can't wait to explore them more. Amazing – just incredibly, wonderfully, perfectly amazing.
Unsurprisingly, the Slytherin queen of magic was a true wizard when it came to her writing. Gorgeous, witty and beautiful, she sucked me in from the very first sentence and had me utterly hooked from that same line. I adored how we switched between Kell and Lila and then a few...added extra POVs. I loved exploring all the Londons, seeing them through Kell's well travelled eyes and Lila's almost-as-new-as-our eyes.
And god, I just adored the storyline. The idea of a quest across worlds, an evil stone, crazy rulers and brilliant characters – I mean, what's not to love? I loved the race, the battles, the quest. I loved the excitement, the adventure, the adrenaline-pounding pace and suspense... I just loved all of it and cannot wait to get my hands on A Gathering of Shadows to find out what happens next!
So, if you haven't gathered, I loved A Darker Shade Of Magic just a little bit. Ok a lot bit. A bloody ginormous bit. Victoria is my Slytherin queen and she has crafted a truly magical and amazing book here, one I love to absolute pieces. It has magic, pirates, adventures, backstabbing, blood, drama, excitement and just so much more. I am seriously struggling to find the words to do A Darker Shade of Magic justice – I just can't find the words to explain how much I bloody adored it.
Here's another attempt:
A Darker Shade Of Magic had me falling in love from the very first page. I fell for the worlds, for Kell and Rhy and Lila, for Victoria's writing, for just about every damn thing. I have read a lot of fantasy and I can say with certainty that this series is in the top five of my favourites – I just love it so damn much. I honestly can't recommend it enough. Just read it. Read it, get your own mind blown, and then shove it into another person's hands. Let's spread A Darker Shade of Magic like the black fever (you'll get the reference after you read the book)!
Now I'm off to read A Gathering Of Shadows because I gots to know what happens next! Happy reading, Grey Londoners!
It was insufferable. It was very shallowly written. There was barely any proper description of anything. I hated all the characters and it was just stupid. I can't even insult it properly because I'm so annoyed.
That being said, I still really enjoyed the book. I liked Kell and the whole Antari magic as a whole and I liked the character of Lila Bard and how the dynamic between her and Kell worked. The writing itself was strong and enjoyable to read and the imagery flitted between very visual and vivid and falling slightly short of that vividness I had come to expect from the book.
The idea of there being multiple worlds, each one having a London and each one having various degrees of magic in their world, was very appealing to me. One thing that stood out as an excellent part of the book were the more simple things. Whether it was the power points that existed in each world and shared the same location as it does in other worlds, or whether it was something as simple as Kell’s coat of unlimited sides.
Just from the opening few chapters you can tell the author has put a lot of thought into her world/s and the ways in which each are so vastly different, yet at the same time feeling closer than I just made it sound, are a wonderful touch to the book as a whole.
I wasn’t overly fond of the villain (I won’t mention the antagonist’s name as I don’t want to spoil anything if I can help it) and every scene said villain was in just felt kind of like watching a pantomime villain. Admittedly, there were some incredibly dark and bloody moments, but parts often felt overly theatrical when it came to Kell combatting the various bad guys and gals. I think it is this that made me think it didn’t really know what age group it was aiming itself at. Not that either age group would be a problem where this particular novel is concerned, I just kind of wish it had settled on YA or not YA.
That slight negative aside, the book is an enjoyable read and I’d recommend it to anyone who enjoys fantasy and wants something a little different. Especially if they are tired of the same old magic systems and wants one that is very different.
We have two main characters, Kell, an Antari, a blood magician who can travel between parallel universes, and Lila, a street thief who wants to become a pirate and experience great adventures. The novel takes place in the early 1800s, when magical travel between the four different Londons has been severely restricted but we discover that only the Antari like Kell can move between them. Black London fell, consumed by its own misuse of magic, so it’s no longer there but the others are Grey London (the one we know), Red London (the one Kell is from) and White London (ruled over by the sadistic Danes twins). We follow Kell and Lila as their fates intertwine and they are the only ones who can save all three Londons from the tainted magic that destroyed the fourth.
The world building is strong in this book, I was immediately transported into the different Londons and I could feel the difference between them all. The characters are strong but a bit predictable. I enjoyed the pace and flow of the book and I liked the mystery around the ‘stone’ and that we discovered it’s powers the same time that the characters did. I was immersed into this world happily and it pulled me along but I didn’t find it very exciting and found that I wasn’t really bothered by what happened to Kell or Lila. Sometimes I feel like this about central characters when I know that there is a series of books as I assume that nothing bad will happen to the main characters at least in the first few books.
Overall, a good start to a series and I will read the rest but I’m not in a great hurry to do so. This didn’t grab me enough for me to immediately keep reading the rest straight away.
I loved Lila and think she carried the book and made it good. She’s clever and ruthless and hilarious. I think I read it too slowly and combined with it being a slow book already made it feel Incredibly long and sometimes tedious.
I wasn’t overly Invested but glad the pace picked up at around 80% and the end was tense and thrilling and I found myself caring for a few minor characters
I will continue the series and am interested to see where things go. I hope there is some romance in the next book as that was missing in this one with brief scattering here and there but nothing really concrete in terms of romance vibes