Book review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V. E. Schwab

3/5 stars.

I’ve been eyeing this sample on my Kindle for quite a while. It looked/sounded really promising, so I’ve been saving it for the right occasion, and during my holidays I caved and downloaded the full book at last. I’ve been looking for a new fantasy series to fall in love with and suspected this could be it. It wasn’t.

It’s not bad, not at all, it just wasn’t really what I was looking for.

The story is set in a world where there are 4 different realities. In each of these realities there is a city called London, but each of these Londons and each of these realities is very different. Kell hails from Red London, the healthy and prosperous kingdom where magic and humanity live in relative harmony. There is also Grey London, which has very little to no magic left in it at all, White London where the most powerful hoard the magic and the rest of the populace are left starving and desperate. And then there is Black London. Black London was consumed by magic, and all gates between it and the other Londons were sealed to keep the “disease” from spreading. Kell is one out of the two known remaining Antari. The only ones who can travel between worlds.

The main story revolves around a stone full of dangerous magic, originally from Black London, and Kell’s struggles to return it to the lost city, while others – drawn to its power – try to stop him. It’s basically The One Ring. And I’m not having a go at Schwab when I say this, just giving you an idea of the kind of object we’re dealing with. The story around it is totally different and the universe is totally different, but it’s the same kind of evil magical object with an almost irresistible allure, that will take you over if you’re not careful.

It’s certainly an intriguing concept, and there’s a lot of neat ideas built into the story – not least of which is the coat with many sides. But to me at least, the concept seems to be just that. Not finished, not fully fledged. For my taste there is too little background. What is an Antari? How are the Londons connected? How does the magic work? What happened to Black London? Etc… And what background there is comes in too late in the story. It’s entirely possible that this is explained in further detail later in the series, but I feel like I shouldn’t have to wait for a second or third book to get answers to the basics.

It is very action packed, and it was exciting. I read the last 30% or so in one gulp. But I feel like the action came at the cost of character development and background. I didn’t really get to know the characters well enough to care about them. Thus the excitement was not as exciting as it could have been – if you know what I mean.

And while kudos are definitely in order for creating a new language, I found it a little distracting. It felt to me a little as if it was used mostly to illustrate that the writer created a language; it was overemphasised in parts for no apparent plot-related reason.

So yes, it was exiting, it was original, and I didn’t struggle through it by any means – it was easy to read. But still not quite my thing, not quite what I was hoping for.

I prefer fantasy series where I am immersed in a world that seems to fully exist in the author’s head, so I can just live in it, unquestioningly, for a while. Laini Taylor’s Daughter of Smoke and Bone trilogy is a good example of that to me. I didn’t have any questions and felt as if the world really existed, like everything had its place, its explanation. Here I felt too much like I could see the “bones” the story was constructed over.

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