A Darker Shade of Magic
Shades of Magic #1

Written by: Victoria Schwab
Published by: Tor
Release date: February 24th 2015
Genres: Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 400
Source: Gifted from a friend
Buy: B&N, Amazon, Book Depository
Add on: Goodreads

Kell is one of the last travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.

There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, and with one mad king—George III. Red London, where life and magic are revered—and where Kell was raised alongside Rhy Maresh, the roguish heir to a flourishing empire. White London—a place where people fight to control magic and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. And once upon a time, there was Black London. But no one speaks of that now.

Officially, Kell is the Red traveler, ambassador of the Maresh empire, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. 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.

Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs into Delilah Bard, a cutpurse 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.


There’s this feeling I sometimes get after finishing a book — it’s extremely rare, and only happens when the book was a whole other level of intense and amazing. It’s this euphoric, wrung-out, disoriented stupor, and it leaves you speechless and reeling.

Well, I got that feeling after finishing A Darker Shade of Magic. And that’s the highest praise I can give.

Victoria Schwab originally teased A Darker Shade of Magic as “pirates, thieves, and sadist kings.” If you’re any sort of fan of her work, and she throws those words at you, you’re a goner. But then you read the synopsis (Schwab-fan or not), and you sort of side-eye it. How is this possible? This book seems to have way too much going for it, way too many good things in it — How? Why? What’s going on? Is this for real?!

Well, before you get too excited, let me just make it clear how many good things there are in this book, because the synopsis actually doesn’t cover it.

  • (Aspiring) pirate ✓
  • Thieves ✓
  • Sadist kings ✓✓
  • Amazing magic system(s) ✓✓✓
  • Flawless worldbuilding ✓✓✓✓
  • London(s) ✓✓✓✓
  • Fabulous magical coats ✓
  • Incredible characters ✓✓✓✓
  • Amazing friendships/brOTP’s/nemeses ✓✓✓✓✓
  • Ship potential (no insta-anything) ✓!!!
  • Banter ✓!!!!!!!
  • FEELS ✓✓✓✓✓✓!!!!!!!

Yep, your eyes do not deceive you. A Darker Shade of Magic ticks ALL THE BOXES — and revels in it.

A Darker Shade of Magic does with the fantasy genre what Vicious did with superheroes. It takes things we’ve seen before — magic, evil tyrants, world(s)-in-danger, etc — and turns them upside-down. Raises the stakes. Makes them new. This is fantasy at its finest — and Victoria Schwab at her best — and it is not to be missed.

From its worldbuilding and characters, to its plot and pacing, A Darker Shade of Magic is complex and intense, but still balanced by aspects that had me grinning like a loon. There’s something about this story that screams, “Magic! Thieves! Adventure! Are you having fun yet?!” It’s not a “light” sort of fun; but like I said, it seems to revel in everything from the heroes and their fabulous coats, to the villains and their unapologetic badness. And that’s something that I appreciate with my entire being. I love the fantasy genre —  high fantasy, urban fantasy, what have you — and A Darker Shade of Magic takes great joy in each of its (somewhat familiar) fantastical elements, but it’s also utterly without compare. I adored everything about it.

One thing I can always count on with with Victoria Schwab is that she crafts complex, layered characters. We saw it in Vicious — instead of a true “hero” or “villain”, the main characters were a combination of both. In A Darker Shade of Magic, the lines between good and evil are more clearly drawn, but this doesn’t mean the characters are any less complex. It’s always been my belief that heroes need a bit of darkness in them and that villains should always be more complex than they’re often given credit for. And in both of those roles, A Darker Shade of Magic does not disappoint.

Kell, the Red traveler and ambassador for Red London, is my favorite kind of hero. He’s charming, cocky, a bit defiant, and somewhat bitter about some of the things life has thrown at him. But when it comes down to it, his loyalty runs deep, and he will do anything to protect what he loves — he’s almost self-destructive in his protectiveness. He’s also got this ability — his ability to travel — that, even as it broadens his world, isolates him within it. And yet he cherishes it; it offers him a freedom and joys he wouldn’t have known without it. I just… I have a lot of feelings about his character. He’s amazing.

He also has a truly remarkable coat, which is actually multiple coats — and infinitely stylish. …This has nothing to do with why I love him. Though it certainly doesn’t hurt. >_> What, I like a man in a nice coat, okay?! Jeez. ;)

Lila Bard is a thief and aspiring pirate, and she is flawless. I want to use words like “feisty” and “kickass” and “sassy“, but honestly, those words are over-used — and they don’t do Lila any kind of justice. I have to admit, I’m a little bit in love with her.

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

“Seen what?”

Her smile widened. “Everything.”

ARC, pg 205

That quote really does encompass who Lila is. Her life is something she’s fought for, killed for, guarded with everything she has. But she’s also filled with this fierce joy, and the drive to wring all the adventure and greatness she can out of her life. So when Kell shows up, and she learns about Grey, Red, White, and Black London, there’s nothing that can stop her from hitching a ride with Kell — and Kell has to let her, because, of course, she’s stolen something pretty important from Kell, and she refuses to return it until he’s taken her to these other Londons.

In addition to Kell and Lila, we also have Rhy Maresh, who holds a very special place in my heart. Rhy is the dashing prince of Red London, a brother to Kell in everything but blood — and who, according to Kell, would “flirt with a nicely upholstered chair” (ARC, pg 254). Then there’s Holland, White London’s traveler, the only other person Kell knows who can open doors between their worlds, and someone whose situation is, shall we say, a lot more complicated than it might appear. And finally, Astrid and Athos Dane — rulers of White London, and the kind of horrifically believable bad guys who make your blood run cold, and who genuinely test your belief that anyone could possibly gain the upper hand against them.

But Astrid and Athos aren’t the only forces for destruction that Kell and Lila have to worry about. In most fantasy books, “black magic” is often just what the user makes of it. In A Darker Shade of Magic, black magic is… rather a force of its own.

Bad magic, Kell had called it.

No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.

And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.


In conclusion…

I’d love to include so much more in this review. Like, how about Rhy’s and Kell’s incredible friendship, guaranteed to latch onto your heart (and possibly crush it)? Or what about Lila and Kell’s growth from “pickpocket” and “victim”, to friends who understand each other on a level that doesn’t just “bring the feels”, it punches you in the gut with the feels? Or how about all the twists and turns in the plot, and the ending that will have you going “What?! No. That can’t happen. wait, WHAT?! NO. WHAT IS GOING ON?!” in the best way possible? Because seriously, the ending (really, the last 25%) had me absolutely dying.


I may not have had any coherent words for that ending, but I can tell you one thing for sure: A Darker Shade of Magic is hands-down my favorite book of 2015 so far — and I will not be surprised when it remains my favorite as the year goes on, despite all the good things coming our way. Yes, it is that good.


I loved A Darker Shade of Magic so much that I feel compelled to give away a copy. It happens sometimes, just go with it. ;P If you haven’t already been convinced to preorder this book (which I would highly recommend — you can even get a poster if you buy from one of these indies!), then this giveaway is for you! ;)

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128 thoughts on “ARC Review: A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC by V.E. Schwab

  1. I haven’t read any Victoria Schwab books, but I hear only amazing things about them so I really want to read her books. The premise of ADSOM is so interesting, and I love that it is set in London. Also, can I get a minute to appreciate the cover?!

  2. Boy of boy, this is possibly the most exciting review I have seen, like, EVER! Your love for this book literally pours off this page and assaults me, and dude, I am surrendering to it!!!! I was already freaking excited for this book before – I love Victoria, I loved her previous adult novel, Vicious (I WAS JUST AS EXCITED FOR IT as you are for DSoM!) and I know what she’s capable of, so yeah, sign me up! My blog partner, Andrea, read and reviewed her YA series, and she freaking LOVED it too. Victoria is amazing and I could read her shopping lists (I know, what a cliche thing to say, but it’s god’s honest truth).

    So yup, THANK YOU for reviewing this book, thank you for doing such an amazing job being ridiculously excited for it (in the best possible way!), and thank you for the chance to win a copy. I don’t ever enter giveaways these days anymore, but for this book I am going to, because I know it’s worth it! :D THANK YOU!!!

  3. I like what I just read, first time reader of this author and I thank you for bringing it to my attention. Anything with magic whether black or white I am sold especially in London. Something about the two (magic & London) mixes well to form a mystical tale. Good Luck

  4. I actually own both “The Archived” and “The Unbound”, but I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. It seems like I should read them soon, though! All I keep hearing are fantastic things about the author. I need to get on this bandwagon ASAP.

    Awesome review!

  5. I’m so excited to read this! It’s going straight to my TBR list! I’ve never read anything by Victoria Shwab, but I have some of them on my TBR list which I can’t wait to get and read. Also, I follow her on twitter and she seems amazing! haha
    Thank you for the giveaway :)


    I’m all caught up on my Aveyard now AND I NEED THIS ONE. Why on earth did I read that preview BECAUSE I’M EVEN MORE DESPERATE THAN BEFORE. PLUSSSSSS you loved this one as well. Beautifully layered characters?? OH HOLY HELL I NEED THAT

  7. I actually read a 130 page excerpt of the book, and I really regret doing that because now I have to wait a month for it to publish.
    Reading your review makes me want it more~~!

  8. Victoria Schwab! Victoria Schwab is why I’m so excited about it – because she is so awesome! Seriously, I cannot believe (I mean, I can because it’s Victoria) has everything and it’s good! Normally books that have everything are messy and just blah. Cannot wait to experience the feels for myself!

  9. Omg one word Kel I read the preview and even though he has a weird black eye I don’t vp are since he ha he most amazing jacket in the entire world! I’m so in love with the book! *finger crossed*

  10. Oh boy!! I read the sampler of ADSOM and was left kicking and screaming for more and seeing your review, we truly are in for a treat with the full book!! I haven’t read anything by Victoria Schwab yet (if you don’t count the sampler, of course) but I recently got Vicious from BookOutlet so it’s now there on my TBR pile, judging me!

    Thank you so much for making the giveaway open international!!

  11. I’ve heard so many great things about Victoria Schwab’s books especially Vicious and I really hope to read some books of hers this year

  12. I haven’t read any Victoria Schwab books, but I hear only great things about them. I love books about Magic and if I won I’d get the others and have a ball.

  13. I’ve read a couple of her other books, but I think this may be my favorite of them all. It was amazing to read! :) Lila and Kell were both such fascinating characters. I cannot wait till the next book to see more of them. (I think there’s a next book? I read somewhere??)

  14. I mean I already wanted to read this book. Victoria Schwab really knows how to build a complex and fascinating Fantasy world and characters that dubiously walk the line between good and evil. I loved Vicious so much and this sounded even better. I love that it takes Fantasy tropes and makes them new and exciting. I love that in my Fantasy!

    And I totally agree about characters. I think heroes need a little evil in them and villains need a little good. As much as I love a diabolical villain that is pure evil I prefer when they actually seem like they’re redeemable it’s even better. Not that I really want them to be redeemed but I like the possibility of it. These characters sound really compelling and I can’t wait to get to know them.

    Great review! It makes me want to read that preview I have with the first 130 pages. I need to read this book! Is it February 24th yet? I NEED MY PRE-ORDER!

  15. I have not read any of her books but they have been recommended to me, I just need to buy them.
    OMG, I saw so many people freaking out about this book on twitter! I am so excited to read it specially since a friend of mine, who I have lots of books in common with, said her books are definitely the type of books I like!

    Thanks for the giveaway!

  16. I am a Victoria Schwab virgin but obviously this is something I need to rectify! This book was already on my radar but seeing all of your status updates pop up as you were reading it has me DYING to get my hands on it. I honestly don’t think I’ve read a really good book yet that deals with parallel worlds and I can’t wait to do it! Awesome review!!!

  17. Wow, I was definitely excited for this book to come out but now I don’t know if I can wait! The book sounds incredible, I love all the fantasy elements to it and how different it sounds compared to others out there! I love Victoria Schwab’s writing, so I can’t wait to dive into this one!


  19. Great review Nikki! I’ve been seeing so many good things/feelings about this book that it’s amplified my excitement for this book ten-fold xD I’m not sure what particular aspect about this book excites me the most, the whole premise just sounds really interesting and all of the book covers I’ve seen for this book are absolutely gorgeous ;) I haven’t read any of Victoria Schwab’s books before so this book will be my first! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this title :)

  20. Aaaaah that “just finished an INCREDIBLE book” feeling! Okay I was dying of excitement after I read the sampler but now I’m preordering! No doubt in my mind that this is going to be fantastic :)

  21. I CANNOT WAIT to read this. I read Vicious first, and even though it’s darker than the books I normally read, I was instantly hooked. Then I read the Archived series, and the Unbound became one of my favorite reads of 2014. Man, can Victoria Schwab write! As much as I love YA, I’m excited that A Darker Shade of Magic is an adult fantasy series.

  22. I sadly haven’t read any books by Schwab, which is terrible I KNOW I KNOW, I’ve been meaning to read Vicious and The Archived for ages! BUT I WILL READ THEM SOON I HOPE. And I’m so excited about ADSOM because London!! FABULOUS COATS!! FEEEELS. I need this book in my life!

  23. I’ve never read anything else by Schwab, but there isn’t a person I’ve heard talk about this book who didn’t say something to the effect of, “OMG BEST FOREVER AND EVER.” I’m excited, but a little wary because I have such high expectations. I think this will probably be the first book this year that I love.

  24. I fell in love with Victoria when Angie made me read Vicious! I got the preview of ADSOM from NetGalley and I was going to wait until closer to the release date to read it, but I JUST NEEDED TO SEE. And now I’m on pins and needles waiting for it to release because the preview was BEYOND EVERYTHING AMAZING. I seriously can’t wait, Nikki.

  25. I’ve read The Archived and starting The Unbound. But I know I’ll love ADSOM. It’s like an intuition. Schwab’s style is so amazing and fresh, I can’t get over it. Also, your checklist(ish) just makes me more excited.
    You make me want to do cartwheels everytime you post anythong ADSOM related. XD

    Can’t wait to get my hands on it(and VICIOUS!)

  26. I haven’t read anything by this author before, but I’ve seen this book on many 2015 Anticipated Read lists. I’m looking forward to it because it looks really interesting. I think it will be so engaging, and the excerpts I’ve gotten to read are so engaging. I keep wanting to read more. I wish it were already out.

  27. “Kell is one of the last travelers—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes connected by one magical city.” that very first part of the synopsis lead me to drool over this book. i love fantasy so much and LONDONSSSSSSS. (who would not?) i am not entering the giveaway, just feeling your feels. ha! awesome review. xx

  28. Ah, crap. I am so so sunk for this book. I mean, I LOVED Vicious, and I still can’t think about Leave the Window Open. I’m so excited that I preordered it – just one more month now!

    Your review is killing me Nikki. Killing. Me. *grabby hands at the book*

  29. Ooh,pick me, pick me! I’ve seen enough to know I really, really want to read this. Thanks for the chance to win! I also entered the Goodreads contest, so I have my fingers crossed.

  30. I finished The Archived yesterday and a few years ago I read The near witch. I’m in love with her writing-style and how she makes those layered characters you talked about. And hello: Lila Bard is a thief and aspiring pirate. I love me some pirates :D

  31. I soo want to read this one! Parallel worlds are my thing! I’ve read and loved The Archived and The Unbound and need to read Victoria Schwab’s other books ASAP!

  32. Thank you for the cool giveaway! I remember how much you raved about Vicious, which immediately put the author on my radar – I’d love a chance to pick up her work! Whenever you use “Feels” more than once in your review, I know it’s a good one, LOL.

  33. I’m most excited to see the different universes! The premise sounds so intriguing, I can’t wait to find out what it’s like :D I’ve read The Archived series by Victoria Schwab and I loved them! She created such an unique world with an interesting concept! I have Vicious sitting on my shelf waiting for me and I’m hoping to get to it soon! Thanks for the giveaway!

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