Series Title: Shades of Magic
Book Titles: Book 1: A Darker Shade of Magic, Book 2: A Gathering of Shadows, Book 3: A Conjuring of Light
Author: Victoria Schwab (published under pseudonym V.E. Schwab)
My Overall Rating: ★★★★★
I was debating on whether or not I wanted to write an entire series review for this because honestly, I should really be moving on from these books. But I’m struggling. I’ve been trying to start a new series over the last few days and it’s not working because I’m still desperately holding on to this one.
I guess it’s safe to say that I’ve become way too invested in Shades of Magic. And I think the only way I might be able to start letting go of it is if I write a proper review (lol more like a mess of me screaming) of the series so I can finally read some other books. I know there’s more series out there that I’m going to love just as much, but right now my mind is just like BUT SHADES OF MAGIC THOUGH. It’s been a problem.
So I hope you guys enjoy this review, AKA me yelling about how incredible this was!!
This is going done in a few different parts so I can be sure to cover all the aspects I’d like to mention. Also this entire review will be SPOILER FREE, but if you wish to go in to this series without knowing a thing about it, feel free to to skip to the last part called Overall Thoughts if you’d like.
So what exactly did I like so much about this series? A lot. And I mean A LOT (clearly). But here’s what I loved the most:
THE WORLD BUILDING: Okay yeah, I’m still in awe of how Schwab came up with this setting. This series takes place in London in the 1800’s, but not in just one London. Yes, that’s correct: there’s not one London, but multiple parallel Londons. Oooh! Each of them are called by a color and they’re also encompassed with varying degrees of magic. MAGIC, I TELL YOU. Here’s a brief overview of them:
- Red London ≥ Home to our main lead, Kell, and ruled by the royal Maresh family. Magic is abundant here. And it’s also my favorite London.
- Grey London ≥ A very bleak and simple city that no longer thrives on magic. This one is the actual capital of England. Also home to Lila, another one of the main characters.
- White London ≥ Referred to as “the starving world,” this London is pretty much decaying and is always in a state of struggle.
- Black London ≥ A mystery of a city that was rumored to have once existed, but supposedly magic grew overpowering and everything in it is now gone. Very spooky.
That’s about the gist of the Londons. Or, as Lila put it: “There’s Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, and Dead London.” Very accurate, indeed.
As you can see, each of the Londons have their own unique differences and “personalities”, if you will. I really liked how starkly different each of them were, even though they’re all just different versions of each other. It’s also just ridiculously cool in general to read about one city and then to jump an alternate version of it. Really, the entire concept of parallel Londons was quite clever.
And of course, the magic system itself is astonishing. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a fantasy series, so reading about magic again was… well, magicial. I honestly felt like a kid discovering Harry Potter for the first time. I liked the incorporation of the elements (fire, wind, water, and earth) as the basis of the system. I also thought it was interesting that not everyone had the same abilities to use magic, some not at all, and how that impacted the story as a whole.
I will say I was a little nervous that I’d be confused by all this world building at first because I was like, what the heck do you mean parallel Londons, and what are all these magical terms? And like I said, it’s been a while since I’ve read a fantasy series. Longer than I’d like to admit. But I was pleasantly surprised by how easy it was to catch on. Schwab did an excellent job with explaining this incredible world she created and I had no trouble becoming invested in it very, very quickly.
THE CHARACTERS: Besides the world building, the characters are also what made this entire series for me. They all have a place in my heart, truly. You can tell Schwab took her time with each character in this series because they’re all extremely well written and have their own distinct backgrounds, personalities and intentions. Even the characters that we see very little of have an important role in the plotline.
How much I like the characters is usually a good indicator of how much I’ll end up liking a book as a whole. They’ve always been one of the most critical parts of a story to me, so I was very happy that this series had some ones I loved reading about. There’s some especially notable characters I’d like to mention, and also my favorite ones to read, including:
- Kell: Our main lead, and such a good one. Kell was raised by the royal family in Red London, but since he’s a rare type of magician called an Antari, that means he can actually use blood magic to travel between the Londons. Because of this, he’s the one who keeps Red London in contact with the other cities. Kell was the perfect character to follow as the main voice of the series. I never grew tired of reading about him, and you just have to root for him the whole time.
- Lila: I kind of had a lot of different feelings about Lila at the beginning, but ended up loving her. She’s from Grey London, but there’s not much else we know about her past, besides the fact that she spends a lot of time thieving and aspiring to be a pirate (this goal is fitting for her tbh). I found her constant fierceness to be admirable, but sometimes her carelessness could be frustrating. All in all though, it’s Lila, and I freaking love her, and she grew on me way more than expected.
- Rhy: Is it okay if I have a favorite? Because I do. And it’s Rhy Maresh, the prince of Arnes. I don’t even have words to express how much I love him. It’s just TOO MUCH. Rhy had me laughing because of his personality and hilarious lines one moment, but then crying the next because of how much he has to go through. Ugh. I’m telling you, you cannot help but love Rhy with your whole heart.
- Alucard: We sadly don’t get to meet Alucard until book 2, but trust me when I say that he’s WORTH THE WAIT. As soon as he was introduced, I knew he was going to be a favorite. I thoroughly enjoyed getting to know him throughout the story and how prominent he ended up becoming in the plotline. I’ll always love him and his iconic lines. And his cat.
- Holland: Uhh yeah. I don’t think I’ve ever had so many complex feelings about a character in my life. Holland is another Antari from White London, and his story is definitely… interesting. I don’t think I can say much here without spoilers, but Holland is one of those that you have to pay attention to and just be willing to understand.
It was so impressive that each of these characters were so well created. I applaud Schwab for having the ability to write them the way she did. One of the reasons it’s hard to let go of this series is because of how attached I became to the characters, and I will always adore them. They’re too special.
THE CHARACTER DYNAMICS: You know what I love even more than the characters themselves though? The dynamics they have with each other. This is what I tend to get the most invested in when I read any book. It’s always so interesting to read about the interactions and complex relationships between characters. It makes the storyline that much more intriguing.
And let me tell you, the character dynamics in this series did not disappoint. There were tons of good ones I’d love to talk about, but I’ll keep it simple as possible and just tell you my top four favorite ones, which are:
- Kell ↔ Lila: Okay, well these two were iconic from the beginning. I was SO invested in this. What I loved the most about Kell and Lila was that things never felt overly complicated between them. What they had made sense and it only enhanced my enjoyment of the series instead of just adding drama. It was perfect.
- Kell ↔ Rhy: NOTHING LIKE THE BOND BETWEEN THESE TWO BROTHERS. Since Kell and Rhy grew up together in the royal palace, they became family and were inseparable from the start. Their loyalty to one another, and the fact that they’d do anything for each other, made my heart happy.
- Lila ↔ Alucard: Every conversation between these two was just pure entertainment. I about died laughing at them, tbh. I really liked how Alucard was basically Lila’s mentor, and how the two came to trust each other over time. Considering both of their pasts, I’m glad the both of them found a sort of family in each other.
- Rhy ↔ Alucard: I can say very little here without spoilers but this is my favorite and I’m just gonna leave it at that. 🙂
Are you sick of me talking about the characters yet? OKAY, FINE MOVING ON.
THE PACING: I absolutely flew through this series, so I’d say the pacing was generally well done. I never dreaded picking up any of the books. In fact, I was desperate to read more the entire time. And I may or may not have stayed up all night reading a few times, but I mean, it was worth the sleep deprivation.
Although I do want to mention that the second book of the series, A Gathering of Shadows, did drag a bit. It was never boring, but the plot just didn’t intrigue me as much as the others. I think it suffered a little from “second book syndrome” and was more of a bridge in to the third and final book. But, I can appreciate the pacing of it in a way, because the build up to that insane cliffhanger of an ending was pretty cool.
I’d say the first book had the most action, the second had too little, and the third had a perfect balance. But all of them were brilliant, of course. Just make sure you have the next book readily available when you’re reading, because they’re definitely bingeable and ridiculously hard to put down.
THE WRITING: These were my first Schwab books (I know, I’ve been missing out!!) but I already can say that she’s one of the best writers I’ve ever come across, and probably ever will. There’s something so incredibly enchanting and surreal about the way her words come out on paper. I’ll never forget reading these first few sentences of A Darker Shade of Magic, and realizing that I was about to get in to some truly masterful writing:
Kell wore a very peculiar coat. It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible. The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed.”
See what I mean? I was intrigued from the very start. I thoroughly enjoyed the way she described all of the strangely magical aspects of this series, like Kell’s coat, because it just felt so unlike anything I’ve ever read.
Also, the way Schwab brought imagery to each setting was completely fascinating. It really felt like she was bringing each of the places she wrote to life. This was one of the descriptions that was most memorable to me, the first time we get a glimpse of White London:
This struggle had a side effect, and that effect was the reason Kell had named White London white: every inch of the city, day or night, summer or winter, bore the same pall, as though a fine coat of snow -or ash- had settled over everything. The magic here was bitter and mean, and it bled the world’s life and warmth and color, leaching it out of everything and leaving only the pale and bloated corpse behind.
Seriously. It was like I could actually see White London as I was reading this, and genuinely feel just how chilling this city really is. I loved how Schwab’s writing made this series feel like I was watching a movie instead of reading a book.
I know for a fact that this series wouldn’t have been nearly as good if it wasn’t for the writing style. It was astounding how well written it was, and I’ll definitely be reading more from Schwab soon. Because if her other books are just as well written, and I know they are, then count me in for that please.
OVERALL THOUGHTS: I, without a doubt, loved this series with everything that I am. More than I am able to explain. To put it one way, out of all the books I’ve read in my life, I only have 15 shelved as all time favorites on Goodreads. Two of those books are now from this series.
The world building was beyond excellent, the characters ones I will forever hold close to my heart, the writing masterful. EVERYTHING WAS SO GOOD. Seriously, reading this was an experience I will never forget. It was actually magical.
I’d encourage anyone to read this, even if you’re reluctant because of the hype or are unsure if you’d like it. It’s worth it. It’s so worth it. And I could never recommend it enough.
Alright, that’s about all I got. I mean, not really, because I could talk about this series forever, but I’ll stop here lol. It was good to write this though.
And also if any of you have any series suggestions, please do let me know. I’ve been trying to play catch up this month on hyped fantasy series, but this one has put me in a mini slump agh. Which has lead me to reread Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virture (so good though). But I’m dying to read another series soon!!
Hope you guys have been having a good weekend, and also a good September, and that you’ve been reading lots of great stuff lately. 🙂
And thanks for always letting me rave about books on here, especially this series!! ❤️