A Darker Shade of Magic (V. E. Schwab)


Maybe I should back up. Just a little.

V. E. Schwab (also Victoria Schwab) is the author of a number of books, mostly for younger readers. I had taken notice of a few of those books in the past, though I never quite found the time to pick one up. But then my good friend Mackenzi Lee spent so much time gushing about Vicious (Schwab's first foray into adult fiction) that I had to pick it up. So I did. And boy, am I glad I did. (This is not a review of Vicious, though it was excellent and you should all pick it up. Think X-Men, but way cooler.)

I will now move on to the topic of the evening, A Darker Shade of Magic. To be honest, after Vicious, I really didn't care what the back of the book said. I WAS PICKING IT UP, BY GEORGE! So when an ARC showed up at work, I snatched it up without a second thought.

Then I spent a good two weeks or so letting it hang out with the other twenty-two books on my nightstand, making friends. I wasn't afraid to read it. I just wanted to be in the right mood. I was so certain I was in for something special that I wanted to make sure nothing (and I do mean nothing) could get in my way. I finally settled in on a gray fall evening with a cup of tea and some time to spare. I was very pleased I'd waited, because A Darker Shade of Magic is the sort of book that demands (and rewards) one's full attention.

The first thing I noticed when I started was that the jacket copy is deceptively vague. Different Londons! Travelers! A thief! A mysterious lost city! It all sounded so intriguing, but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I had no idea what was actually going to happen on the page.

It was better that way. So while I'm telling you now that this was an excellent, excellent book, I must also tell you that I can't tell you all that much about it. Trust me. It's better this way. What I can say is that there are spectacular hijinks (cross-dressing pirate thief + pseudo-adopted princeling Traveler magician = chaos, so what did you expect?). The action starts at the very beginning and does not let up, leaving me feeling like I was riding a galloping runaway horse (but having the time of my life). There are also really interesting questions raised about personal responsibility in the face of nation-wide tragedy, personal agency, the nature of good vs. evil, and whether death is the worst possible fate (obvious non-spoiler: it's not).

I wasn't certain whether this was a standalone or the beginning of a series when I began, and there were a few pacing things I quibbled with until I realized that it was okay that Chekhov's gun hadn't gone off yet, as there was going to be an entire other book! (This realization also annoyed me, however, as I gobbled A Darker Shade of Magic down and immediately wanted MORE MORE MORE.)

Pick up this book if you like: cool magical worlds, morally ambiguous female characters, cross-dressing, serious questions dressed in exceptionally stylish coats, alternate histories, casual kissing, and people who strive to change their stars. It's dark. It's morally shady. It's deeply, deeply sad in parts, and yet it is also, at times, cheerfully kick-ass. A Darker Shade of Magic is due to be released on February 24. Go put this one on your to-read shelf now, folks.

Reading: The Very Best of Kate Elliott (Kate Elliott)
Listening to: "Hotel Song" (Regina Spektor)