A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series, which is set in a world where parallel Londons exist: Grey, White, Red, and the lost Black. A Darker Shade of Magic follows the lives and intersecting adventures of Kell, one of the few magicians still able to travel between these Londons, and Delilah, a cut-purse from Grey London, the London of our world with no magic.
In this review, I have to begin with the world and concept of this book. It was these, along with the high ratings this book has received, that first drew me in to read this book. I find the concept of parallel Londons, each with different amount of magic in it, to be a fantastic one, and the novel does not disappoint in how it develops this world. The Londons feel cohesive, and the system that Kell works is well thought out and feels real.
From there, I have to move onto the characters, because that was the next thing that impressed me about this book. I really enjoyed the introductions of both of these characters: both seemed well-rounded and real, while being complete badasses without feeling they were without flaws. I grew to like them very quickly, and I was eager to find out more about what they do.
Part-way through the book, their lives intersect, and they continue adventuring together from that point on. Unfortunately, I really did not enjoy their interactions with each other. Both characters remained true to what they had been before they met each other, but for some hard to pin down reason, when their personalities were put into the context of each other, I grew to dislike the very traits that I had liked previously.
The plot I would characterise as being like a snowball rolling down a mountain: small events at the beginning of the book keep leading onto larger and larger events and problems, and the characters’ attempts to deal with those problems lead to further events and problems. This is why I think the word ‘adventure’ is an appropriate one to describe it. Looking back on the book now, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this type of plot, nor in how it is executed specifically here. However, at the time of reading the book, I found myself disappointed, because it was not the kind of plot I was expecting. I was expecting a plot epic in scale, something the main characters fall into and have to deal with, and while reading the book I kept expecting the adventures the main characters were on to wrap up so the real plot could begin.
So, despite my high expectations and my positive initial impressions of this book, this book was a bit of a disappointment for me. However, all of the reasons I have for not liking the book are matters of personal taste, and not matters that I could claim as objective faults of the book. So, I would encourage potential readers to read reviews more widely before making up their mind as to whether to read it or not.