Rated Reads

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, book 1)

by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari, people gifted with magic that allows them to travel between worlds. There are several versions of London, and he goes among them carrying messages among the different kings and queens of the cities. There’s Red London, where he’s from, and which is flourishing; there’s Grey London, pretty much the one we know of, ruled by mad King George, and that has almost no magic; there’s White London, which still has magic but is out of balance, and the rulers are vicious and constantly changing. And there used to be Black London, but it was taken over by magic and is sealed off.

Lila is an orphan who lives in Grey London and steals to get by. But she’d love to break free and see the world and live on her own terms — preferably as a pirate.

The two cross paths after Kell accepts a package that contains a dangerous black stone. It’s full of dark magic, a relic of Black London. He is drawn to what it can do but knows it must be taken out of the cities he knows to keep them safe. He reluctantly allows Lila to accompany him because she just won’t take no for an answer. The two face down one threat after another until they find out just who set this dark magic loose.

I enjoyed this story and particularly appreciated Lila, who is determined and tough and knows what she wants. She can’t let her soft side show because she can’t afford to, though being with Kell opens up little windows into that side of her. A Darker Shade of Magic is an entertaining magical tale. The world itself isn’t entirely my cup of tea for reasons I can’t articulate, but it’s good writing. I like the author, Victoria Schwab, who uses her full name for her YA books and this shortened pseudonym for adults. I’m still waiting for a third book in her Archived series, the premise of which was clever and which I really enjoyed.

Rated: Moderate, for two uses of strong language and occasional mild and moderate language. There are a few sexual references, such as men occasionally wanting to have their way with Lila, but not much. There’s more in the way of violence and gore. The brother-sister king and queen of White London truly are sadistic and cruel, and that goes a long way toward the moderate rating.

— Reviewed by Cathy Carmode Lim

Cathy Carmode Lim has been reviewing books for newspapers for about 20 years, two of which she was a book page editor. She founded Rated Reads in January 2008.

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  • A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic, book 1)
  • by V.E. Schwab
  • Genre: Fiction
  • Reviewer: