Goodreads blurb: Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.
This is where Schwab and I amicably part ways
This is the second novel I read from Schwab and I have gauged what I do not like about her writing, so it’s time for me to just admit her books are not for me. I read Vicious, gave it 3 stars because it was at a time when I thought I had to like popular books (embarrassing, I know, it was also more of 2 star read) and the issues I had with that are largely the same I have with A Darker Shade of Magic. See, V.E. Schwab is very good at coming up with a concept. But if there’s ANYTHING I hate, it’s a concept without any semblance of depth. This book is a very good outline of a great world, magic system and characters. And the thing about good outlines is that they allow the reader to project whatever they want onto it. The fandom stuff I have seen for this book far exceeds what this book actually does.
First of all, there is really no world building here. The world is so painfully simple and I really was looking forward to exploring beyond the concept of the four Londons. But we do not do that at all. Literally, all you get to know in 400 pages is that there are four Londons, that’s it. And you would think that 400 pages would do something in terms of character or world building but I promise you they do not. But they give you a very good outline for you to project whatever you want onto them. I finally understand why people either love or hate Lila Bard. I was hoping that it was because she is such a complex character but it’s the opposite, it’s actually because she is so painfully simple. She is a survivor who is really reckless and stupid. That’s it. And then you can focus on the first part and love her, or focus on the second part and hate her. Same goes for Kell. What’s Kell’s defining feature? He love his family but he feels he does not actually belong. OKAY. Done. Rhy? He is a flirt, but deeply committed to being a good king so insecure. THERE. V.E. Schwab gives you these very tropey outlines of characters and then you can pour whatever suits your fancy into them. But she does not do any actual character work. I am sorry, but that’s just my opinion. The one character I liked was Holland and that’s because you guessed it, Holland’s outline is my kryptonite outline – he’s tortured and hence cruel, but maybe there’s more to it. But again, no real complexity there. I did care about Rhy and Kell’s brother bond, it’s great, and I shipped Rhy and Holland so much because that’s my perfect pairing, but like, there really is not much there. But it’s great if you want to make it be. It’s like a choose your own adventure story, except with characters. There were also points in this book where there was so much potential to make the characters and their dynamics more interesting but they just crumpled under the heavy weight of how basic these characters actually were.
There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London.
Everyone loves this quote so much because it shows how Lila is so funny but in actuality this is all the world building that exists in this series. Like you read that sentence and you get 400 pages worth of world building that Schwab does. I find underdeveloped worlds and magic systems painfully aggravating and that’s exactly what this was. I kid you not at one point Kell explains to Lila the Red London world (I swear to god I forgot how the land is called because it’s mentioned only twice and in a stupid way) and he literally says “there’s this kingdom and two others”, and Lila asks “and beyond” and he says “beyond? well I guess many more countries”. AND THAT’S THE EXTENT OF THE WORLD BUILDING IN THIS BOOK. This scene actually made me laugh out loud incredulously. The magic was also vague and another thing I hate the most – limitless. It fits and does whatever the story needs it to do and I cannot explain to you how much I hate that. There’s a lot of deus ex machina resolution in this book and that rides on the magic being whatever it needs to be. And it also makes the stakes painfully low and hence the book painfully boring for me personally. People love to argue how this is only the first book in the series and you have to get the full series to understand its scope but I promise you that that is not the case. World-building happens throughout the series and first books are so important for it, and this book does none of the work.
What is the actual point of this book?
This book is just very annoyingly boring. And the annoying thing is that there’s absolutely no driving force to this novel and its plot. Literally nothing happens and when things do happen there’s absolutely no stakes there – 200 pages into this and nothing has happened and you are also supposed to believe that there is this dark magic and it’s dangerous but it really is not and you really could not care less. The plot is so so messy and it’s parading as fast-paced, with its short chapters that end at crucial points (but we can argue if this book even has a crucial point) but for the book to actually be fast-paced it needs to have a driving force behind the stuff happening and it needs to not be boring and A Darker Shade of Magic was none of those things.
Definitely not my cup of tea. I just felt like this had nothing going for it except for Holland and the imaginary romantic tension between him and Rhy that I made up in my head because of one encounter that V. E. Schwab negated at the end but I promptly chose to ignore. So one star for Schwab’s outline and another for me filling the outline. Teamwork!
I am really sorry if you like this novel and I was just bitchy about it – I would love for you to tell me if you read it and loved it or read it and hated it! Let’s chat!
In the meantime, happy reading
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