A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in the Shades of Magic series written by V.E. Schwab. Published in 2015 by Tor Books, it became a fantasy blockbuster novel, with well over 110k ratings and 15k reviews on Goodreads, and an outstanding average score of 4.0. I had heard about these books for awhile and read the synopsis of the story, of course, but had resisted taking the plunge to read them. (It takes a lot for me to try out a fantasy book, since it is probably my 3rd favorite genre, after science fiction and mystery.)
All I basically knew about these books before I started reading A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four different versions of London (Red, White, Grey and Black) which the protagonist is able to travel between and something magical happens that threatens the existence of all of the Londons. This précis is technically true but fairly reductive since it misses some major features of the book. First, there are actually two protagonists: Kell and Lila. Second, the magic system is based around “blood magic” and very few people in any of the Londons have the ability to wield its power. Of course it turns out that Kell is one of them. The other main character is Lila, who is introduced to the reader (in first person) as an accomplished thief who primarily dresses in male clothing. Kell is from Red London (where magic is plentiful and common) while Lila is from Grey London (where magic is mostly unknown and rare). Very few people in any of the Londons know about the existence of the others (which is not surprising since so few people have the power to travel between them). White London is another place where magic is plentiful (almost too much so) and it turns out to be ruled by two very powerful, twin siblings named Astrid and Athos Dane, who are basically pure evil. It turns out that Black London long ago became cut off from the other Londons because they overused magic and were consumed by it. Apparently nobody goes to Black London any more.
It’s a pretty intriguing fantastical world that Schwab has created in A Darker Shade of Magic but the highlight of the book for me is not the setting but the characterizations of Kell and Lila, whom we readers spend most of our time with.
The plot involves a power struggle for a dangerous and extremely potent magical artifact that Kell inadvertently takes from one London to another which could lead to the evil rulers of White London basically taking over and subjugating all the other habitable Londons (Red, Kell’s home world, and Grey, Lila’s). I had forgotten to mention earlier that it is a big "no no" for any material (except letters) to be transferred from one London to another.
Overall, while A Darker Shade of Magic is clearly the first book in the Shade of Magic trilogy it is also a self-contained novel of adventure and fantasy which thrills and entertains. I’m definitely looking forward to seeing what happens in the two sequels A Gathering of Shadows and A Conjuring of Light.
Title: A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic, #1).
Author: V.E. Schwab.
Length: 400 pages.
Publisher: Tor Books.
Published: February 24, 2015.
Read: August 15, 2018.
Read: August 15, 2018.
GOODREADS RATING: ★★★★½☆ (4.5/5.0).
OVERALL GRADE: A/A- (3.83/4.0).