A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
Spoiler Warning: I’ll be talking about my feelings and opinions regarding all three books. Most of what I’m referencing will be specifically for the first two books, but I will discuss my feelings about the conclusion. I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but I can’t promise that there won’t be any. For example, I do reference romances and they don’t occur until later books. That being said, if you’ve only read the first two books, I will be talking about some specifics in them and then more generally about the third – you’ve been warned. Here is my Goodreads review for the first book, which I expanded here to encompass all three.
The first book set up the idea of the different Londons: magic-less gray London, vibrant red London, starving and desperate white London, and decimated, dead black London. Each built upon a foundation of London but developed in completely different fashions. Their cultures, religion, speech, manner and being is so unique in each world.
It was a really intriguing way to build the world and immediately fascinated me. Good world building is so important to books because it is immersive, it pulls you in and makes you forget that it’s not real. You are living the story with the characters. She even created languages that were utilized by characters from different places, from the magic language of the Antari to the flowing words or harsh tones of the neighboring lands. It shows a passion for authenticity and true love of what she has created.
I love the characters. Rhy with his charm always brightens the room (or a scene). He is not as prevalent in the first book as I expected him to be, but you get to watch him change over the course of the series. The darkness and uncertainty that he faces changes his role in the books and he is a little less the comic relief (which is disappointing).
Lila is cunning, ruthless, ambitious and a thief. She doesn’t need anyone and she would never admit to needing anything. She takes or does what she wants, no matter the cost with no regrets. She is tough as nails and her grit is inspiring. Her first instinct is to protect herself above all.
Kell is uncomfortable being paraded around in public, content to keep to the shadows. He is kind and unsure at times, despite the immense power within him. He deserves someone who will love him like his brother does, unconditionally and completely.
While Lila does care about him and comes to his aid much more often than could ever be expected of her, she still doesn’t quite feel good enough to him. Or rather good for him, in the way he needs someone to be. Lila is perfectly fine on her own. She doesn’t need him. Lila is a strong, independent woman that needs no man. While I like them together, they would never be my OTP and I feel that they are better off with other people.
Alucard Emery is charming and has great control over his elements. Some of his scenes or dialogue were my favourites in the book. He almost immediately became a favourite character. Although he is a stranger when Lila makes her way onto his boat and into his crew, over the course of the novel he becomes a friend. His story is slowly pieced together, but he shares as many secrets as Lila does which is to say none. He also takes the time to teach her about her magic, although he is a self-proclaimed terrible teacher.
Many people may not agree with me, but Lila was probably my least favourite of our main characters. She was smart and tough, but a little too ruthless for my taste. Kell was the character that I liked/related to the most, even though he was a powerful magic user he seemed the most down to earth.
Not only does V.E. Schwab introduce us to unique main characters, but she brilliantly gives depths to those in the background. There are some supporting characters that at times I liked even more than some of our leads.
By the beginning of the second book, Calla is probably my favourite background character. While we don’t know anything about her outside her little tent, she finds her way into our hearts. Her kindness, understanding, and humour with Lila are endearing.
I fell in love with Hasta during the transition between guard and actor. His enthusiasm prior to the games about going undercover was adorable. His innocent glee was infectious and just makes you smile. It was such a simple thing, but it was one of my favourite scenes in the book.
The second book introduces the Essen Tasch, or Element Games, that you slowly learn more about as our characters become embroiled in shenanigans. More than 2/3rds of the book pass before they even begin. You learn about the preparation for them, some of their competitors and get excited as if it were a real competition. The games begin and I for one do not know who to root for. I would love for Kell to win, but I can’t imagine him enjoying the spectacle of being a winner – unlike Alucard or Lila.
While not all the matches are detailed, they’re described so vividly that you can see the battles raging in your mind. The elements being fashioned into weapons and shields, bright flashes of light as a magician connects and the thunderous cheers of the crowd. The excitement of the games is infectious and so enjoyable to read.
The first interaction between Rhy and Alucard was brilliant. You kept being teased throughout the book with non-information about why Emery was no longer in London and how Kell wasn’t a fan of him throughout the book – and this scene gave us a little more information. (And feels). It was probably my favourite romantic moment in the book.
The third book was intense, horrifying and I had no idea how our heroes were going to prevail – if they were even going to prevail. The characters continued to grow throughout their journey and sometimes were humanized in ways that made them more sympathetic. As expected in a war, there were deaths, sacrifices, and battles. I am very satisfied with the conclusion of the series and feel that most of the loose ends/my questions were tied up or answered.
Overall the first story is more of a slow-burn/build rather than quick ion packed scenes. The second and third have a little more action in them, but overall the series isn’t this edge of your seat thriller (and it’s not meant to be). I think that it worked really well for this series and have no complaints. Highly recommended to young adult/teen readers who enjoy fantasy or magic books with characters that have very diverse personalities/outlooks on life and great world-building.
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