Masterfully written, incredibly enjoyable, and what could be V.E. Schwab’s magnum opus; A Darker Shade of Magic really did captivate me. I have read some of Schwab’s books before; her young adult series The Archived was imaginative but I found it didn’t grip me and her superhero novel Vicious was well-written with some brilliant characters, but again it just was not my jam. So coming into A Darker Shade of Magic, I did have my doubts, but boy were they eradicated swiftly.
It follows the story of Kell, a young “prince” with a forgotten childhood (*cough* amnesia trope *cough* but I’ll forgive it *cough*) who is an Antari. He wields control over all elements by using blood magic, but that ain’t his coolest trick, kids. Using tokens, he can open doors to travel through worlds, specifically into one of three alternate Londons (we do not speak of the fourth…). He’s a decent guy, albeit secretive and not afraid to kill a bitch to protect his BFF and (I kinda suspect) secret true love, his adoptive brother Rhy. He often travels to the different Londons for the sake of royal correspondence, but also taking on some private smuggling for the lols. That’s when he makes a mistake and picks up something he shouldn’t, causing him to be hunted down, but also leading to his run in with one of the most badass female protagonists I’ve seen in a while: Delilah Bard.
Lila’s your typical street urchin pickpocket, like Vin from the Mistborn series, like a lovable Oliver Twist.
Except she’s not; she’s awesome and she throws all stereotypes to the ground.
She really is such a unique character. Sure she’s an orphan thieving on the streets of London, but she’s hardened and confident, way more than I would have expected. She quips without being overly sassy and embraces the antihero side of her. If someone needs to die, she will not hesitate. Even if that person is innocent.
“First time you killed someone?” Asked Kell.
“Indeed,” she said, “but I suppose the nice thing about killing is that it gets easier.”
I love that she doesn’t let shit get her down. She’s had a shit life but she knows what she wants and she’ll bloody well get it for herself if she sees an opportunity. She is also, essentially, a cross-dressing pirate wannabe. I think one of my favourite moments in the entire book is when lila is tasked with infiltrating a masquerade ball; so many novels will have a female protagonist find a beautiful ball gown (and most definitely include some sort of transformative makeover scene in which the FMC realises her true beauty, *gasp*), but who laughs in the face of the trope and disguises herself as a male sea captain? Delilah fucking Bard, that’s who.
The other characters may have paled in comparison, if I’m honest. Kell was great, but does suffer from your typical protagonist blandness. I still enjoyed him, but Lila and the side characters were just so much more interesting: Holland was vair vair intriguing, and my gosh there was just not enough of Rhy. He’s like a young, regal Jack Harkness and an all around decent bloke. I only hope we see more depth to him; maybe a bit of darkness or desperation just to turn him from a lovable character to an epic one. I really think he may have that potential, but we’ll have to see.
As it happens, I’m hoping there will be a sequel but I’m not sure it’s confirmed. The ending to A Darker Shade of Magic was fairly conclusive, but leaving enough clues and intrigue for a sequel option to be viable. As it was though, the story was relatively self-contained, so I have absolutely no idea what could possibly happen if Schwab made this a series. I just know I want more of Lila. And more about the greater worlds in each dimension. World-building-wise, each London in the story was well described and vividly imagined; but I’d kind of like to see more history, more locations, and definitely more magic. There really was not enough in this one. You know what else there wasn’t quite enough of: character growth. As kick-ass as they were, I would have appreciated a bit more of an inner journey for each of them. Their own personal stories were kind of overshadowed by plot stuffs, which isn’t a bad thing, but something to look out for in a sequel.
But if any future books were to contain the same calibre of characters, the same fast-paced and surprising plot, and of course my beloved Lila, I’m sure it’ll be getting a positive rating from me.