Book Review: A Darker Shade of Magic

Sara Harris, Freshman, Staff Reporter

Our reality is our essence and our truth – but what if there wasn’t just one reality? What if our reality was just one of many, the only separation, a door? In the fantasy novel A Darker Shade of Magic, by V.E Schwab, the author explores the construct of parallel worlds, infusing the abstraction into her plotline. Diving into this plot-driven novel is something I wouldn’t recommend to the average reader; however, good things come to those who wait, and for some, the wait is more than worth it. 

The plot of the story takes almost a hundred pages to fall into place, making the first quarter of the book feel languid. Once the plot is fully developed, it follows a straightforward concept used often in fantasy novels. Clichés such as evil villains, a cursed artifact, and forbidden lands, are all common truisms used in this novel. Despite the shaky beginning and cliché tropes, including a cookie-cutter romance and a predictable plotline, this book is enjoyable enough to allow readers a small glimpse into Schwab’s world, while getting to escape their own.

The backdrop of A Darker Shade of Magic is both fictional and fantastical, creating four parallel worlds, with four parallel Londons, each with different histories, characters, currency, and of course, magic. Grey London, the London in our world, is a realistic portrayal of the semi-dull city, containing no magic or fantastical properties. Red London, the other main setting of this novel, is almost the opposite of our world’s city, encompassing both magical properties and rich, colorful culture. Magic is very much alive in Red London and is in fact referred to as a living thing, one that later comes at a high cost. One of my favorite attributes of this novel was the magic system itself. Although magic coming at a cost is a common trope, this book insinuates that magic can also be a poison, one that is in the process of plaguing White London, while already destroying Black London. This parallel world was destroyed through magic, leaving the city in ruins, and it’s people dead. And as magic drains the once lively city of White London, citizens begin to wonder if they too will succumb to magic, and fall at the hands of destruction and anarchy as Black London did all those years ago. Only the Anatari, a group of rare people gifted with the ability of magic through blood, can transverse freely through the four Londons, however even they cannot travel to Black London, a place forbidden to all. The novel then starts here; a forbidden land trespassed, a dubious thief, a powerful magician, and evil villains corrupt from failure, trying to save their worlds from the plague magic can become.

A Darker Shade of Magic, although plot-driven, is also rich in luxe characters with questionable morals. Although this is not an anti-hero novel, many of the characters make decisions, solely because of their greed and self-driven disposition. A great example of this is Delilah Bard, or Lila, as she herself is a thief. Her reckless nature and thirst for adventure are often described as insatiable, especially in her anticlimactic world of Grey London. Her thieving behavior eventually leads her to steal from Kel, an ambassador for Red London, whose sole purpose as an Anatari is to deliver letters around the three Londons. What many do not know about Kel is that he also engages in illegal activity, by smuggling goods from the different  Londons for a hefty price. This eventually leads to him trespassing into Black London and stealing a magical artifact that is more than it leads to be. Kel and Lila become intertwined in an adventure against a race of time, evil, and above all else the need to save the worlds in which they live. Although their morals may be skewed, Lila and Kel are the last hope, and this fact alone is enough to get a reader to the edge of their seat. Disbelief at how a common thief and smuggler could somehow save the world, readers will want to witness it themselves.

Schwab’s work is innovative, rich in colors and worlds, and simply enjoyable. Though a bit cliché, and tedious at first, this novel is clever and delves deep into the settings and characters, giving the reader an in-body experience. A Darker Shade of Magic is compulsively readable, and I would highly recommend it to anyone who has a high appetite for adventure and intrigue. I would advise those that have a hard time investing in a novel to maybe skip this one, but for those that can bear the beginning, it is a skillfully crafted read, one I will never forget. There is little to lose by picking up this novel, and much to gain. A Darker Shade of Magic is complex, with multilayered worlds that keep the reader submerged in the pages, late into the night. Fantasy for me has always been an escape from reality, but in Schwab’s storytelling and scrappy characters, I realized the only thing I wanted to escape from, was the feeling of closing the book.