A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab. Tor Books, 2015. 400 pages. Hardcover/Hardback.
I feel a bit behind on the times with A Darker Shade of Magic because it took me way too long to finally get around to reading it. It was one of those books that I saw people raving about at just about every turn I made in multiple book communities, and yet I still didn't pick it up. The description never really jumped out at me, and for some reason I kept imagining it to be some sort of time travel-esque book based on the description, and to be honest I'm really not huge on the time travel theme (unpopular opinion, I know, but there we are.) But that cover. I absolutely love the covers on V. E. Schwab's Shades of Magic trilogy. They are so simple yet so intricate and just all around gorgeous with the red and black and white and incredible design. And then I started seeing more people talking about it recently so I thought it was time to give in and check it out, and I am certainly glad I did.
This wasn't a love at first page book, and it seemed to take me a while to get into and find my groove. However, I should note that despite not feeling immediately gripped by the story, my curiosity was still immediately captured, which is what prompted me to continue reading. I knew that there had to be more to this book and that things would have to start making sense eventually, and they did! It seems fairly complicated at first, but trust me when I say that it will somehow all come together as you read, and you'll begin to understand.
A Darker Shade of Magic has somewhat traditional fantasy elements at its basic structure, but it is such a new concept that it's unlike anything I've ever read. The multiple Londons is one of those ideas that I would have never thought of or been able to develop a story about, but Schwab is apparently a genius and did a wonderful job creating the overall setup and nuances of having such a complex setting.
I also need to talk about this magic system, which is insane (in a good way). I haven't felt this interested in a particular magic system in a while, so that made me extremely happy. Although the nature of the magic in this world (or worlds?) was rather mysterious, it was still understandable in a weird way. I liked that the magic itself was this ever-powerful force that could become too much for someone and basically overtake and destroy them - or, you know, a city.
Kell is an awesome protagonist. He was real. He wasn't some exceptionally badass, fearless guy - he had perfectly human fears and didn't pretend he was any stronger or better than he actually was. This made him feel extremely understandable and relatable and is part of what kept me drawn to the story. I also enjoyed his interactions with the prince, Rhy, because I felt it really helped to develop his overall character by showing what he cared about.
Lila is also an interesting character and I'm still somewhat on the fence about her. I loved her fierceness, independence, and overall sense of being a badass, - pretty much the opposite of Kell at times - but sometimes she grated on me somewhat. It was mainly her attitude that drove me crazy: her stubbornness, in particular, frustrated me. I know that stubborn characters are a favorite of authors - how else would anything move forward in the plot if there's not a bullheaded character who refuses to go with the norm? It just annoyed me when Kell would specifically explain to her why he needed her to give her something (vague in case of spoilers), and she just wouldn't do it. I know and understand that that is a big part of her character, how her and Kell interact, and how she ends up traveling with him, but it got on my nerves. I will say, though, that throughout the course of the book she did begin to grow on me, and I see positive potential for her character in the upcoming books. Overall, she's a strong character and I think she will continue to grow on me with subsequent books, but I'm not just automatically in love with her for being a strong female lead.
Overall, I'm completely torn about how to rate this. On the one hand, I can't help but want to give it anything other than a five star, but on the other hand I don't quite feel like it absolutely hit that five-star note for me. As a result, I have decided to give A Darker Shade of Magic four-and-a-half-stars, and I recommend to this just about anyone, especially those who love adventures and want something new.
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