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

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #1
My rating: {★★★★☆}

Adult Fantasy
Published February 24th 2015 by Titan Books

Source: Borrowed
Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they'll never see. It's a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive.
Firstly - and this is pretty monumental - this was my first ever Schwab book! Why oh why did I leave these books for so long? What was I even thinking? If you're even a little hesitant to start this one because of hype or for ANY REASON please, just throw all the excuses out the window and your caution to the wind and go and read this series.

It's amazing. It's intense. It's original. It's full of vibrant characters that you will fall in love with and it's heartbreaking. You're going to love it.

I can't even pick my favourite thing about this book - the world building, the characters, the plot, the writing - it was all equally brilliant.

Let's start with the world building - I adored the settings of the different Londons and the various worlds they were in. It is such an intriguing premise and I applaud Schwab for making her descriptions so natural and subtle. The extremely complex world with a complex magic system was just so easy to read and understand; I never felt swamped with information or lost. The world was just so well fleshed out, with tastes and smells and sights and sounds and was given substance with facts and tales.

The characters were all so dynamic and exciting that I couldn't help but fall in love. Not a single character felt like they were stereotypical or boring; no-one was perfect and everyone fell into that sort of morally grey area and that made them even more likeable, even the villains! I was intrigued with Holland and was desperate to know more of his backstory and motives and I even found myself feeling sympathetic towards his evilness... It's just one of those books. I was also wholly impressed with just how much believable development Schwab squeezes out of these characters.

Lila is quite an amazing protagonist to follow and I think she rapidly became one of my favourite literary heroines. I mean, the girl wants to be a pirate (#myhero) then add in her snark, her spunk and her tenacity - obviously she was always going to be a favourite. She's adventurous and daring and reckless and vulnerable.

“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”

Kell was.... Well, Kell was Kell - you need to read the book to understand. He's quiet and reserved and he's been raised by a royal family so he's also extremely refined and he's one of the most powerful magicians in the four worlds. He could have easily been boring and yet - he's also highly intelligent, fiercely loyal to his 'brother' and even though he would probably describe himself as far more ruthless he definitely had a softer side. AND THAT COAT! I possibly could have loved him just for his amazing wardrobe.

And the ROMANCE!!!!!! Well, it was more of a ship than an actual romance, but WOW, I was shipping hard, which was pretty impressive considering that the book barely touched on the possible ship/romance at all.

“What are you?” she asked.
“A monster,” said Kell hoarsely. “You’d better let me go.”
The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. “Monsters don’t faint in the presence of ladies.”
“Ladies don’t dress like men and pick pockets,” retorted Kell.
Her smile only sharpened. “What are you really?”
“Tied to your bed,” said Kell matter-of-factly.
“And?”
His brow furrowed. “And in trouble.”
A Darker Shade of Magic has it all - evil twin rulers, magic that has mind of it's own, dashing princes, great characterisation, a well paced plot and clever, rich world building that make this a must-read for any fantasy fan.

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2)→