WOW I’M FINALLY DONE WITH THIS BOOK.
I began this book with very high expectations and it didn’t fail me for the first half. But for some reason, my attention and interest started wavering around the middle and I was stuck on it for a really long time – I felt no urge or excitement to pick it up and continue, but I didn’t want to abandon it either. I’m trying to cultivate a habit of not abandoning books halfway unless it really called for it, which this book, thankfully, didn’t. I finally sat myself down on a gloriously empty Sunday afternoon and finished the second half of the book in one sitting. The thing is, when you’re actually reading it, it’s not too difficult to get the momentum going.
Anyhow, A Darker Shade Of Magic is the first of the Shades of Magic trilogy by author V. E. Schwab and introduces a fascinating magical world that caught my attention and interest the moment I read the synopsis. It introduces a universe where there are 4 alternate universes: Grey, Red, White and Black (not official names, just the nicknames given to them by the main magician, Kell). Each London has varying degrees of magic flowing through it, Black being the one that had been so consumed by magic (a powerful force with a mind of its own, but that is delightfully neither good nor bad, and one that had to be wielded and dealt with with caution), White being almost like a troubled, chaotic and parched world, Red being a thriving “goldilocks zone” and Grey (our human world) being the one with the least/no magic at all. As different as those worlds can be, they have certain fixed points within them that change minimally throughout the 4 dimensions – one of them being the city of London.
Kell hails from Red London, but being Antari, a special and rare breed of magicians that are born with magic in their blood (non-genetically inherited), he is able to move between the different Londons, carrying messages and other things. Things go to shit when he is tricked into picking up a dangerous artifact and an equally foolhardy street urchin from Grey London, Delilah Bard. They spend the rest of the book attempting to dispose of said artifact a la Lord of the Rings, Mount Doom, “THROW IT INTO THE FIRE, MASTER FRODO” style.
This book thread a fine line and could’ve sank into a cliched sort of plot line but it always narrowly misses that, which I appreciate. Despite some criticism about Lila, I didn’t find her characterization overly annoying or stupid. Yes, there were times when she needed saving, but so did Kell and every other major character in the book. Whatever sexual tension or romantic interest may have been breeding in the book was kept to a very subtle minimum and didn’t feel too much like insta-attraction. I thought some things about Lila could’ve been improved or explained (was she a kleptomaniac?) but she didn’t fall into the usual pitfalls that would’ve made me give up on or dislike this book immediately.
Kell was suitably mysterious as the main character. I sometimes found him a little over-dramatic about things, and too much in a rush to (attempt to) kill himself for the sake of others. He’s proven that he’s smart enough, so why doesn’t he think of alternative plans to save everyone which don’t involve him dying in the process? But oh well, I guess he won’t be in a rush to be killing himself any time soon after what happens at the end of the book.
The action was all right, although I guess it got a little draggy in the middle. I’m not sure what it was about it – I simply felt no urge to know what was going to happen at the end. It felt a little – predictable? I knew something had to happen to the stone for it to be gotten rid of by the end of the book, and even though I couldn’t tell whether Kell was or was not going to go along with it, I couldn’t find it in myself to care. To be fair, by the time I reached the end, it did upheave some of my expectations and things turned out slightly different from what I thought it would be.
Would I recommend this book? If you’re a huge fan of period-setting magical worlds and fantasy, yes. It has its flaws but it was a much better-written work than many others out there. But as a point of note, this book doesn’t quite hold back when it comes to violent deaths, of which there are many. Would I continue reading the trilogy? Maybe, I don’t know. I realise that the next book is going to be set on Lila’s adventures, and I’m not sure if I’m interested enough to know more about what’s going to go down with her. The short excerpt of the next instalment didn’t really excite me either.
And now, for the spoiler section!
One of the foremost things in my mind right now is: WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED WITH HOLLAND? I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read that Kell simply put the stone into Holland’s hand and basically Portalled him out into Black London. THAT IS SUCH A BITCHTASTIC THING TO DO. I actually thought Holland might have some redeeming factor – I mean, yes, he killed Barron (though I didn’t buy into the whole Lila sentimentality thing so I didn’t really care) and he tortured Kell and all that, but Schwab spends a lot of Holland’s on-page time talking about how he was compelled to do all these nasty things and all that. He was even described as looking “relieved” when Kell finally decided to kill him, which I think breaks his soul seal or something and releases him from the spell that the Dane twins cast on him?? Anyway even if it didn’t, Kell had already killed the Dane twins so I assume that would’ve broken the seal too? So Kell basically sends a barely-alive Holland who had the potential to regain his health and consciousness and MORALITY into the abyss of Black London along with the stone?!?!?!?! I don’t know, but Holland could’ve at least restored some balance to White London????? What was Kell thinking????? WHAT?
That bit made me so uncomfortable and bewildered.
I also really enjoyed Rhy and Lila’s bantering at the end, but being a mainstream junkie like I am, I still kinda hope Lila and Kell would end up together.
I was secretly hoping Lila would remain a magic-less Grey Londoner but be able to somehow wield her barren magic state into an interesting puzzle piece within the magicky Red and White Londons. I thought that perhaps that was the reason why she didn’t seem infected with the black stone’s magic. Like how fire can set many things alight but won’t affect stone much? I was even a little disappointed when Tieran told her that she had unnurtured magic within her. I feel like we need some characters who really and truly possess nothing to come into their own with the people who appear to have been born with everything (like Kell), instead of abruptly discovering that they had a well of talent buried in them all along.
This book is crying out for a movie adaptation. And I’m going to champion for Eddie Redmayne to take the character of Kell, and Tilda Swinton the character of Astrid Dane. Otherwise it’ll just be shit.