Alyssa Mattei reviews V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic, the first installment of her fantasy trilogy Shades of Magic.
“Oh my god I love him,” I say out loud to no one in particular. No one else is around. I am by myself, outside, in public, admiring the early spring flowers and falling in love with the antagonist of the fantasy audio book I am currently pacing circles around my neighborhood just to listen to. Little do I know that catching all the feels for the wrong character, was exactly the right thing to get me through the next few weeks. To allow me to escape my own world and trade it for the trouble of another while our universe was beginning to crumble. Escaping with a step, skip and full cannonball into Victoria Schwab’s world of magic and mayhem is exactly how I got through quarantine mostly still some semblance of sane. Like the As Travars spell (which allows passage between worlds) this novel provides the perfect key for lobbing yourself out the door and into another world; a decisive formula for escapism. The Shades of Magic universe sits between four alternative Londons: Grey London, a place not unlike our own dull, unenchanting world, Red London, where magic thrives and people’s success is fated by how much they have, White London where magic is a commodity and citizens ability to survive depends on how much they can take, by any means necessary, and Black London, a scorched world now more legend than land, and a lesson of greed’s corruption. When a mysterious object- a relic from an obsolete land destroyed by power- falls in the hands of Kell, whose Antari powers allow him to travel between the Londons, he brings a dark and dangerous sorcery into his own land, endangering his kingdom, his world, and everyone in it. The narrative of A Darker Shade of Magic follows the interactions and relationships of Kell, a powerful magician who struggles with his identity amongst a royal family, his brother, Rhy, a dedicatedly loyal but powerless (magically) prince, Lila, a cut throat thief with a heart for adventure, and Holland a tortured soul who serves an evil colourless set of twins. While I have been known to harbor a problematic fave or two in my life, falling for the antagonist- before there is even a hint of inkling towards a redemption arc- of a story doesn’t usually tend to be my style. But that is just one of the enchantments that remains exquisitely entangled in Schwab’s narrative. Every villain is the hero of his own story; and every hero is the villain of another. The development, background and character arcs used to dig into and clarify the motives of all parties makes the characters incredibly believable, and human; sympathy tripping the reader into fully dedicating their full emotion range to words on a page. Schwab paints with words, builds worlds out of pages, and breathes life from verses pumping into genuine characters.This book is a personification of magic both in its characters and in the literature’s ability to enchant the reader. This story is a gemstone even more powerful than the offhand itself. It holds the Antari power to transport the reader to alternate worlds and provides the ultimate fantastical escapism. In this universe magic’s source is in blood, and this story trilogy is certain to live in my veins forever.