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Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (4/5)

4 Feb

I had thought of reading this one but kept putting it off. When Ford Audiobook Club offered up copies, I figured it was time to jump on the bandwagon and just read/listen to the darn thing. It was enjoyable for sure. I hope to read the sequel when it comes out though I won’t line up for it. I’ll wait till the hype dies down.

A Darker Shade final for IreneA Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Summary from Goodreads:

Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.

Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London—but no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to another world for her ‘proper adventure’.

But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive—trickier than they hoped.

If you know me or have followed this blog for a while, you’ll find it hard to believe I don’t consider myself a fantasy fan. Yep, this Harry Potter fangirl is saying she doesn’t like fantasy. But what I do like is magic that lives next to normalcy which HP has and A Darker Shade of Magic uses as well. The fully magical worlds and universes appeal to me less than those that exist alongside my world. My imagination works better this way. For that reason, I enjoyed this book despite my fantasy skepticism. Lyla was a good balance to Kell and Rhy was a refreshing absence of magic in Red London scenes. Schwab’s story played well and I liked Red London best because it felt safe; the balance between magic and manual life was just to my liking.

Lila was everything a fantasy-female should be. She was strong, sassy, and didn’t fall in love! I think this weakens a lot of stories and I liked that (excepting a quick moment) Lila isn’t secretly looking for a boyfriend. She’s looking out for herself and she’s smart about how to do it! She’s tricky, conniving, and at the same time loving and emotional. She’s a great balance and actually (odd comparison) reminds me of Rae from the new Star Wars movie. I’m so excited about strong female characters. I have hope for the next generation after all.

Lila was my obvious favorite but I also like Rhy. Come on, what’s not to like about a prince with secrets? Even though Kell found it hard to see the King and Queen as his parents, it was obvious he thought of Rhy as a brother. That helped me like him from the start. It was fun to see a male character in the ‘damsel in distress’ role so I guess a lot of what I liked about Rhy was his role in the book. And his sarcastic character.

Lila was easy to relate to. She wasn’t happy with her lie and wanted to change it so she went on a big adventure. Doesn’t every adolescent girl feel that way? Kell was pretty easy to relate to as well. He had an obligation to his parents and while going through with it, strayed a little and it went awry. I think that situation is a common fear. I’m always afraid when I’m following simple, routine directions that something’s going to get in my way and mess everything up. Like driving and fearing a crash. I’m always slightly terrified of that.

V.E. Schwab Photo courtesy of Amazon

V.E. Schwab
Photo courtesy of Amazon

Lila’s life in Grey London was really fun to read. It was a great way to introduce her character. It’s hard not to like a character who you are introduced to as a murderous thief. Seeing her defend herself against an attacker was a good indication of what she would be like in the rest of the story and made for an action-packed start.

While I liked the introduction to Lila, I thought the beginning was a bit of an info dump when it came to Kell. This is something I’ve noticed in my writing when I review it. There will be a scene where the character is going through routine motions and every few sentences, the author adds a background story that develops the world. It’s really frustrating and slows down the story. It made me skeptical early on though I now know I did not need to be.

My audiobook was narrated by Steven Crossley. I liked his reading but I found his voice for Lila to be a bit annoying. She always seemed to have a nagging quality to her voice that didn’t seem completely necessary. I’ve noticed this about a few male narrators before so I don’t think this is strictly Crossley. I think it’s hard to find a male narrator who does a female voice well.

To me, this was a fun adventure book. There wasn’t a lot of a message about family or heroism though Kell seemed to be okay with self-sacrifice. Not every book has to have a deeper meaning and I can think of a few examples without any. It was still fun and I think a lot was set up for sequels. (The rest of this paragraph will be me ranting about spoilers.) Does anyone else think Lila is a magician and that her missing eye was ‘damaged as a child’ because it was black?! I can’t be the only one. And Rhy’s life is on the line all the time, I doubt Kell will be traveling a lot. And I think we’ll find his parents before the end of this adventure. Just saying.

Writer’s Takeaway: This book was refreshing. It was fun, light-hearted, and not a YA romance about falling in love with a magical man. Lila was strong, the situation wasn’t contrived and the characters thought logically (as much as all of this is possible in a logical world). Having a male in distress and a female rogue was a great mix-up on the usual tropes and helped me enjoy the story.

Fun and fast paced. Four out of Five stars.

Based on the reference to Mad King George, I’ve used this book to fulfill the 1700s time period of the When Are You Reading? Challenge.

Until next time, write on.

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Related Posts:
Review: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab | Firey Reads
The Journey to a Darker Shade of Magic | Victoria (V.E.) Schwab
[Review] A Darker Shade of Magic — V.E. Schwab | Thoughts and Afterthoughts