Title: A Darker Shade of Magic
Author: V.E. Schwab
To start with, you should know up front that there’s no way you can go wrong by picking up a book by V.E. Schwab. Her premises are incredible. Her executions are spectacular. Her characters are on point. Her plots are meticulous. Her twists are amazing. Always.
V.E. Schwab is a talent, and she’s one of my favorite authors — ever.
So with that disclaimer out of the way, let’s talk about A Dark Shade of Magic.
I have to say that, yet again, my favorite thing about this book is the way that Schwab takes a common trope and completely twists it on its head. In Vicious, she turned the superhero genre upside-down and gave us something that was totally warped (and totally awesome), that really questioned the nature of all those superhero themes we love so much these days. In Darker Shade, Schwab does exactly the same thing, but in place of superheroes, we have magicians.
Magic is a classic and simple fantasy concept — or, at least, it normally is. But Schwab takes the concept of magic, what it means to a person and what it can do (to people) to a whole different plane of existence. The way that the different characters and societies in the book view and use magic offers some incredibly thought-provoking questions, and the utterly spectacular world-building that ensues due to these different “schools” of magic thought not only drives the plot forward at all times but also pulls the reader into the complex, unique, and utterly believable universe that Schwab has created.
And if the wonderful world-building and fast-paced, high-octane, magic-fueled plot isn’t enough to keep you around — the characters will. Kell is an absolute delight, uncomfortable with his place in his own Red London, feeling as if he’s missing something — thoughts that drive him to the mistake that jumpstarts the main action. Lila, restless and driven to pursue greater things in life, makes an excellent balance for Kell; she’s both his opposite and his equivalent in many ways, and throughout the course of the novel, their constant friction eventually leads them both to grow and change.
The antagonists in this book are downright creepy, and Schwab has no problem presenting them in their full horror. There’s no masking the horrific things they’ve done. There’s no pretending they have a chance for redemption. There’s no painting them with the possibility of being less evil, less brutal, or less violent than they really are. They commit utterly appalling acts on screen and off, and they’re the perfect sort of antagonists to challenge Kell and Lila.
The supporting cast in this book — unlike in many — are also extremely well drawn. Even some of the most minor characters are given the perfect amount of development to make their actions (and their fates) have an impact on the story as a whole. And even characters with little “screen time” have huge roles to play — and play them beautifully.
Honestly, there’s nothing — at all — I can truly complain about for this book. The writing is superb — light and fast-paced but with a touch of sophistication. The world-building, plot, and characters are well-crafted.
I think, if I had to pick anything as a negative for this book, it would be that I think it’s a tad too short. I think, once the inciting event occurs, that the lead-up to the climax happens a little too quickly. I think Schwab could have done to draw it out a little more and create a slower, more tension-filled buildup to the climactic end sequence without adding anything that seemed like padding. That’s a true nitpick though, not something that seriously hindered my enthusiasm about the book.