Spoiler Free Summary: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab is the first book in the Shades of Magic series. Kell is one of the few people alive who can travel across dimensions, which in this story revolve around alternative versions of London. As an adopted son of the royal family in Red London, he’s a messenger from one king to another. Since Black London was sealed off, strict rules exist about transferring objects from one London to another. That doesn’t stop Kell from doing it. When he accepts something that truly brings danger on not only himself, but also the world, he ends up in Grey London, where is’ promptly robbed by Delilah Bard. Can they work together to not only escape those who are after them, but put right what Kell’s impulsive actions set wrong?
Character: For me, Delilah steals the show. I didn’t see Kell’s relationships enough to understand his motivations. I also don’t understand his motivation very well. I’m not saying it isn’t explained, but I don’t necessarily feel that connection. Delilah, however, experiences situations that help me connect with her better, and this might be why the book didn’t quite grab me the way it did pretty much the rest of the world.
Exposition: Any time you have a first book in a magic series, you’re going to be a bit heavy on the exposition. The reader needs to learn the magic system, get to know the characters, and understand the world. This book has essentially three worlds to refine. Then there is the culture. Fans who like broad, varied settings will love this (see below). However, all the (pardon the unintended pun) dimensions required explanation. This is the second of two (see above) reasons why I think this book didn’t really hit the home wrong. If I’m keeping the baseball metaphor, I’d say this was (for me) a double. But it was hard to get into the story and follow the characters amid the three Londons and magic system and history lesson crammed right in the middle of the plot.
Dialogue: While there’s still a certain amount of thinly veiled exposition in this dialog (normal in any book, especially fantasy), Schwab actually does use dialogue to advance and reveal the character. It’s not as snappy as a Sanderson or Rothfuss, but it’s absolutely more than spoken lines to progress the plot.
Description: This book has great description for settings, fight scenes, and even clothes, but I couldn’t tell you what color hair Delilah has or what skin color any of them are. Now, I’m not a very attentive reader to details of that sort, so please understand I’m not making the assertion that character description is absent; I’m simply saying that there weren’t enough descriptive beats to create a clear mental picture of the characters. The settings were the best. Each time we saw a new London, we were immersed in senses that made each location feel real.
Overall: This book has a creative magic system with great locations and worldbuilding. It was satisfying and fun to read, but the main character didn’t really grab me. Fans of deep worldbulding and mystery plots will probably love this series. No, I don’t think this holds up against any of my favorites, but I can see why some people love it.
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