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

A Darker Shade final for Irene

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.

Rating: ★★★½

It’s been some months since I read this book, but its sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, just came out and I’ve read it already, but it wouldn’t make sense to post a review of it without writing about ADSOM first, right?

I was expecting a lot from this book – it seems I do that all the time, I know – because I’ve heard so many good things about this author, mainly thanks to her other novel, Vicious, that when I picked ADSOM to read I was 100% expecting to be blown away by its awesomeness. But… it didn’t really happen. I mean, I enjoyed it, but it didn’t really meet my expectations.

The characters are good. They are not unidimensional or underdeveloped, and everyone has their own goals, dreams and fears, but unfortunately I didn’t really connect with any of them. My biggest problem was with Lila, though, the cross dressing thief. She hadeverything I love in a character, especially in a female character, but I didn’t care about her. It was only when I noticed she reminds of Vin fromMistborn despite the fact that they are very different characters that I realized why: forced characterization. Everything about her characterization is obvious and totally on the reader’s face, and it annoyed me a lot while I was reading the book. If it had been a little more subtle, I think I’d have enjoyed her much more.

I liked Schwab’s writing, though, and the concept of four Londons had me hooked from page one. All of them – well, three of them, since we don’t go to Black London in this book – were well built and portrayed, and while I wished more of these different worlds had been shown somehow, I loved how each one had its different characteristics and history.

So what really made me not like this book as much as I thought I would was the plot. It was too lackluster and too… common place? Like I said, I was expecting something mind blowing and original, and while theworld is definitely original, I can’t say the same of the plot. It’s… pretty simple, and it was a letdown.

But ADSOM is still pretty good. I confess I wanted to read more of this series mainly because of Rhy, the prince of Red London and Kell’s best friend/adoptive brother, since he became my favorite character despite his small role here in ADSOM, but the world and the few hooks left in this book were also pretty convincing.

In the end, it’s easy to see how the hype almost killed this book for me, but it ended up being a nice read anyway.

Notes on diversity: at least Red London’s royal family is brown and Rhy is bisexual.

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