Joint Review | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)

For our first joint review, Alyssa and Christina have teamed up to talk about A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, which was essentially one of the most perfect books either of us has had the privilege of reading.

Reviewers: Christina & Alyssa
Release Date: February 24, 2015
Publisher: Tor Books
Age Group: Adult
Genres: Fantasy
Pages: 400 (hardcover)
Format/Source: Paperback, Birthday gift from self (what?) / Hardcover, Borrowed from library
Find the Book: Goodreads | Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Book Depository | or look for it at your local indie!

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.

Before Reading

Christina: To put it lightly, A Darker Shade of Magic was one of my most anticipated reads of 2015. I even featured it in a Waiting on Wednesday post, because a) I was already a huge fan of V.E. Schwab, thanks to her fabulous YA book The Archived, b) THAT COVER, and c) there is nothing I do not love about that synopsis because living magic, a magician with a fabulous coat, London (and multiple Londons at that!), and a cross-dressing lady thief. AMAZING. So obviously I went in with very, very weighty expectations.

Alyssa: My first V.E. Schwab read was also The Archived, and Christina had no small part in that. I think what captured me the most about ADSOM was also the cover, and multiple Londons were killer. Multiple. Colour-coded. Londons. What’s not to love? I was also really hyped up just because of Victoria’s sheer enthusiasm through Twitter before release. Oftentimes this sort of hype comes across as self-promotion; but the passion of the Tweets convinced me to read ADSOM before I even bothered finding out about the main characters. Which brings us to …


Christina: I feel like Kell deserves his own section. Also, I’m madly slightly in love with him, but… *ahem* moving on… he’s just a really fascinating character and a wonderful co-protagonist.

Alyssa: I’m going to have to disagree slightly with Christina here — I liked Kell, but I didn’t really feel for him in comparison to the other characters. Objectively speaking, he’s actually a fascinating protagonist, with just the right balance of individuality and loyalty, and his relationship with Rhy is PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT. But in comparison with the other characters which we’ll talk about in a minute. I felt that his internal struggle and his aspirations weren’t powerful enough to sweep me off my feet.

Christina: *looks at Alyssa sidelong*

Christina: I loved Kell, personally. I think this will vary depending on what your tastes are, but I was head over heels for him from the very first page I read him on. He’s resourceful, brave, loyal, fashionable, and clever. I love the way he thinks. He has some really interesting internal dilemmas. HE HAS BLOOD MAGIC AND A MANY-SIDED COAT. He’s assured of his own strengths but also his weaknesses, and he almost always knows how to read a situation. But he’s undeniably got some flaws to come to terms with, and that just made me root for him all the more. Also, his relationship with Rhy is indeed PERFECT PERFECT PERFECT.


Alyssa: Lila is like HANDS DOWN my favorite character of the book. There were some fabulous characters here and I’ve always obsessed over side characters, so this is saying something. But Lila is fantastically unapologetic and just the right shade of morally ambiguous and vulnerable. She’s like a lady Captain Jack Sparrow (she actually does want to be a pirate captain, so that’s another plus) with less melodrama and more sass. Her crowning moment is really when she nicknames the Londons Dull London (Grey), Kell London (Red), Creepy London (White), and Dead London (Black).

Christina: There’s Lila love EVERYWHERE YOU GO in this (admittedly small but growing) fandom, and for GOOD. REASON. Lila has a caustic whip of a tongue and a bulletproof heart. She knows she’s awesome. She’s an old-fashioned adventurer in a ruthless and resourceful package. She adapts to anything life throws at her, whether that’s alternate worlds, Kell, or creepy dead London magic. She’s a great pickpocket. She does what she can to survive, and for the most part, doesn’t hesitate to go to some pretty great lengths (moral ambiguity! yay! Alyssa and I clearly share a love for this in characters). Also cross-dressing and pirate captain aspirations! What’s not to love?

The Villains

Christina: By ‘villains’ I mean ASTRID AND ATHOS DANE. But I’d also like to take a chance to talk about Holland in this section.

Alyssa: I completely second Christina’s use of caps because ASTRID AND ATHOS DESERVE CAPS. They are truly wonderful sadistic monarchs and gah. All the power struggles in White London are fantastic, but the way the two of them are unequivocally power-hungry is just gorgeously portrayed.

And Holland. You know what, let’s just use caps again because HOLLAND IS MY DARLING. He’s such a deliciously wonderful antagonist, and the way he matches Kell move for move and magic for magic — oh yeah, the magic certainly helped — kept me on the edge of my seat. But he’s also so vulnerable because he’s utterly under the control of Astrid and Athos, and the way they drink his magic blood is freaking creepy but also makes me weep for him, in the “You’re my darling, now go be evil” way.

Christina: YES! Astrid and Athos are SUCH GREAT VILLAINS. And twins! Ruling a kingdom! (The only problem I have with this is that I’ve been planning a WIP where the villains are twins who rule a kingdom. Oops.) I love that they’re so unapologetically amoral in their quest for ever-increasing power, and they have a dynamic that’s really fascinating in a sickening kind of way—very cutthroat, like they’d stop supporting each other at the first opportunity. Also, they’re actually intelligent villains! Like very very smart and strong and I’d probably root for them if they weren’t pitted against Kell and Lila and, to some extent, Holland.

SPEAKING OF HOLLAND. I’m kind of relieved that I’m not alone in making him my darling, because while I was reading, I felt a little weird—like, “oh my gosh I love him so much but he’s evil? I should not be feeling these things?” To my relief, it seems that many of my ADSOM-support-group buddies (yeah, that’s a thing, and a very necessary one) share my sentiments toward this evil but strangely lovable character. But this is because Victoria does a really wonderful job of giving him an ever-so-slightly sympathetic side, despite the fact that he’s a villain (and he’s REALLY AWESOME at villain-ing; his magic battles with Kell were absolutely fantastic).

Other Characters

Christina: who are we kidding this is a section for Rhy

Christina: Really, though, I loved how every character in this book was given some thought and some definite fleshing-out, even the bit players. It made everything seem that much richer. It’s pretty obvious how much I adored Rhy, but the other royals are all really intriguing individuals, and the side characters all piqued my interest and definitely contributed to the story.

(Seriously, though. Rhy. RHY AND KELL’S DYNAMIC. BE STILL MY HEART.)

Alyssa: The royals are all beautifully written. Not just talking about Rhy (although he is super hot have you seen the official Pinterest board) here — there’s also the Red Queen and King, and mad King George in Grey London, and his son the Prince Regent! They’re all beautiful reflections of each other through tinted glasses of their own Londons, and I think that’s beautiful.

The Worldbuilding

Alyssa: The magic system, I have to say, was wonderfully elusive without being confusing, detailed without being burdensome. The near-extinct Antari; the balance of magic in red and black; and of course, the Londons themselves. Most of the action takes place in Red and White London, but Grey London (or our London) is no less realistic and has its share of magic-seekers. And the stark contrast between the prosperous Red London and the cutthroat White London was amazing. My only complaint is that we didn’t get to see much of Black London, helpfully nicknamed “Dead London” by Lila. There is a relic that essentially acts as the driving force of the plot, but I would really have loved to see the magic apocalypse. Oh well, in the sequels perhaps?

Christina: I could honestly just leave a big sign saying “DITTO” here because Alyssa’s basically enunciated my thoughts on the amazing world we get exposed to in this book. It’s so unique and well-constructed I am absolutely in awe; ADSOM could seriously be a worldbuilding textbook for fantasy writers. Everything is so rich and colorful (okay so technically only Red London is legitimately colorful but you know what I mean), and all the contrasts! All the creativity! The magic system! THE LANGUAGES HOLY CRAP THE LANGUAGES! I loved this worldbuilding through and through, and Schwab thoroughly delivered on her amazing premise in this book.

The Plot

Christina: Ack, ADSOM’s plot is so twisty and wonderful and thrilling, and the magic action scenes were actually the greatest. There isn’t much analysis I have to offer because every single thing that happens in this book is wonderfully thought out and completely, totally solid.


The Dialogue

Christina: Yes, I felt we needed an entire section to talk about basically BANTER.

Alyssa: And I stand by that decision. Just take a look at the fav quotes below. Lila has the best comebacks ever, of course, but the dialogue is just so indicative of the characters themselves I literally know them far too well.

Christina: Definitely! The dialogue was sparkling and entertaining and meaningful and hilarious, and I felt it was one of the strongest points of this book. It’s brilliant and you will be hanging to every word that comes out of every character’s mouth, no lie.

The Prose

Christina: You probably know that prose is one of the defining qualities of every book for me—if the writing style isn’t as well-executed as the rest of the book, I won’t enjoy it as much. I have two words for you all on this subject in ADSOM: I’m jealous. (Oh wait, I have more.) It’s not exactly that I’m surprised the writing was great—prose was one of the strong points of The Archived as well—but I was blown away by the extent to which the writing floored me. I haven’t read a book with prose as perfect and cohesive as ADSOM’s in AGES. Schwab has a masterful way with words and it shows everywhere in this story.

In Conclusion

Alyssa’s Rating: who am I kidding 5/5

Christina’s Rating: Basically, this book is flawless and y’all MUST READ IT 5/5

And… Favorite Quotes!


Few people would appreciate the poetry. Holland might. If Holland appreciated anything.



“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”


“Careful now,” said Barron […] “Someone might think you’ve got a heart under all that brass.”

“No heart,” said Lila, pulling aside her cloak to reveal the holstered pistol and one of her knives. “Just these.”


“You don’t know anything about these worlds,” he said, but the fight was bleeding out of his voice.

“Sure I do,” countered Lila cheerfully. “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London,” she recited, ticking them off on her fingers. “See? I’m a fast learner.”

You’re also human, thought Kell.


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


“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.”

“Seen what?”

Her smile widened. “Everything.”


“Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need for nothing.”


“You know so little of war. Battles may be fought from the outside in, but wars are won from the inside out.”

2 thoughts on “Joint Review | A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (A Darker Shade of Magic, #1)

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