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

Author: V.E. Schwab
Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Format/Source: ebook/Amazon
Published: February 2015
Publisher: Tor
Length: 400 pages
Genre: Magical fantasy
Why I Read: Excited to keep reading after the sneak peak
Read If You’re: Fantasy/magic fan, of the Gaiman variety
Quote: “The wall gave way and the traveller and the thief stepped forward and through.” (49%)
Rating:  ★★★★ [ratings guide]
Links: GoodReads IndieBound Chapters | Amazon

Whoop whoop. Now that it’s released and I’ve read the whole thing, I can build on my sneak peek comments. Did the story live up to my expectations? Mostly. Everything I loved about the sneak peek persisted throughout the book. But there’s one big thing that keeps me from giving this five stars (discussed after the spoiler warning).

Hm, but now that I’m writing this, there’s not much to add to my previous comments! I think the world-building aspect is covered by saying it lives up to the jacket description. I can add that you really get a sense of each London from the behaviour of its inhabitants. I love the eerie mob voice Schwab gives to the people of White London. My comment about characters is expanded below the spoiler warning. Regarding the prose – now that the final copy is available I can give a quote to demonstrate. This passage isn’t particularly shining but I noted it because I think it gives a strong of sense of Schwab’s style in this book.

Slowly, the man – or rather now, the thing inside him – lifted his head. His black eyes shone, slick against the dry dark as he surveyed the alley. Te body of the second cutthroat lay nearby, but he was already quite dead, the light snuffed out. Nothing to salvage. Nothing to burn. There wasn’t much life left in his own body, either – just enough flame to feed on – but it would do for now. (31%)

I can also add that I ship RhyLa (Are people calling them that? It’s not just me, right?). I made this note in the book before they even meet, on the line, “A procession was marching down the avenue” (52%). The pairing hadn’t crossed my mind until then, but the ship appeared before my eyes and I jumped on it. There might be a spark between them; they barely interact, but I’m intrigued to see if or how their relationship (romantic or not) develops.

Please noteThe remainder of this review contains significant spoilers. Skip to The Bottom Line to avoid.

Here’s a first for me – I think this book has too many deaths. Why are they so many? Almost every character who is introduced dies. These are characters who have personality and seem like they’d make great players in the ongoing story. They were barely around long enough for me to care (only in the sense that I thought, “Dang, that guy would have been fun to read about!”). One of the deaths is clearly meant to have an emotional impact on Lila, but because the reader knows so little of her and her relationship with Barron (erm, was that his name…), I didn’t feel too sad about it. Because there are so many deaths,  I’ve started to wonder if there’ll be some sort of return from the dead plot in the next book… did anyone else think the death toll was abnormally high?

While the story clips along, it concludes with many unanswered questions, particularly about our heroes Kell and Lila. I enjoyed reading about them, but I’m still very curious about their backgrounds and motivations. I especially want to know where Lila’s pirate ambitions come from! The book feels like an introduction to whatever is going to come next. Usually I like stories that are set in a big world but remain small and contained. However, this book finishes feeling almost too contained. You can guess at where the next book will go, but the conflicts present in this book are largely resolved. There’s not yet a greater thread that one might expect to be present in the first book of a series. I’m left wondering all about the few characters who survive the book and what they’ll be getting up to next. Something else I’m curious about is the character(?) of magic, how he(?) came to be, if ‘he’ was always that way (I’m not sure the best way to refer to this ‘character’, as you can see…I guess magic technically is a character but I feel strange referring to it/him that way!). I wasn’t expecting that sort of personification. Not sure yet how I feel about it. I don’t mind having all these questions because I enjoyed reading the book and I know there will be another, but I would have liked some tidbits to tide me over.

Some bit notes on Rhy, Holland and the Danes: I was really really glad when it was revealed Rhy was possessed and not actually terrible. I did get stressed out when it seemed he might die, cos at that point I wouldn’t have been surprised if he did (maybe that was the purpose of all the deaths?). Of the deaths, Holland’s was most shocking for me (okay, maybe tied with the Dane’s – I certainly didn’t expect both of them to be gone already!). I like the antagonist Antari. Going back to the Dane’s deaths, it felt a little quick and too easy for me liking.

Please don’t think I didn’t enjoy this book! I recommend it. There was just more to say about the thing that I didn’t care for than all the aspects I loved (style, world-building, characterization).

The Bottom Line: I enjoyed this book particularly for the setting, the atmosphere and the portrayal of magic. I look forward to the next book, where I hope we’ll get to meet new characters and learn more about Kell and Lila.

Further Reading: 

  • I almost broke my book buying ban last week with this book, but in the ned the ban held xD Been hearing so many good things about it, glad you enjoyed it! Will definitely have to pick it up once my book buying ban ends next month (for a while) 🙂

  • Ahh, congratulations for upholding your ban! I definitely didn't /need/ to buy this book; I had plenty of others to read…but I had some leftover Amazon credit so I couldn't hold back 😉 Do you know if you will you purchase a physical copy? The hardcover looks very beautiful (when I go home I will have to buy it!).

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