Ayli’s Book Club: A Darker Shade of Magic [REVIEW]

You may or may not remember, but I vowed to read a new book every month this year! In order to commemorate having completed these books, I’m going to be sharing a review of them here on my blog. This post is actually a bit late, but that’s due to my lack of foresight and preparation (I know, I know). After this date, every book review I share will (hopefully) be up on the last day of each month!

Without further ado, let’s jump into it!

Genre: Fantasy & adventure

Page count: 398


Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.

Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.

Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.

After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.

Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.

Opening sentence

Kell wore a very peculiar coat. (I’m not joking, but let’s be honest: that coat is the star of the show.)



The two main characters actually took some warming up to for me in the beginning. At first they seemed a bit too much like caricatures—stereotypes; cliches, if you will—for me to find them captivating, but they grew on me more than I expected them to. Kell grew on me fairly early, but Lila took a bit longer. At first there just wasn’t much more to her character than the stoic, cross-dressing cut-throat of a thief. Most of her characterization was mentions of how dangerous and unattached she was, with constant reminders of those two facts, but as the adventure truly started to kick off and she found a purpose bigger than herself, she started to show more of her colors. By the end of the book, I was starting to feel as fond of her as I’d hoped to be.

The side characters actually didn’t take much warming up for me to enjoy their company, but that’s how it often is for me. I gravitate towards the smaller roles, maybe because I’m shown less of them and am given the ability to fill in the blanks. White London’s Antari, Holland, who both is and isn’t a villain; the Red Prince, Rhy, and his two guards, Gen and Parrish; the owner of the Stone’s Throw tavern, Barron… heck, even Calla the street vendor and Master Tieren were immediately likable and compelling to me.

The villains—Athos and Astrid Dane, twin rulers of White London—were absolute cliches, sinister one-liners and all, but the world they were placed in and the power they were given made their particular brand of evil unique enough for me to still hate them in the right kind of way. The way they spoke and behaved, however, could be laughable at times. Some of the lines they dropped sounded like they were trying way too hard to be menacing, but Victoria Schwab actually manages a feat that many writers with that same problem fail to: the characters’ actions back up their attitude.


The world building in this book is honestly my favorite part of it. The idea of three parallel Londons sounds like a bore—London is London is London—but Victoria Schwab manages to breathe a unique sense of life into each version of the city. The culture, the language, the people: it’s all so different and vivid. I fully expected to get the three versions mixed up in my head, but it’s surprisingly easy to keep them straight. From the dull and ordinary Grey London, to the vibrant and lively Red London, to the grisly and savage White London, the setting never failed to compel me. As someone who is obsessed with world building and lore, this book was a particular treat for me.


I was drawn to this book after stumbling across the author’s Twitter and experiencing the fandom and its inside jokes secondhand, and everything about the overall idea seemed incredibly unique. I was a fan before I ever got the chance to read a word of it—the concept of this book stands out in the best kind of way—so my expectations were pretty high to begin with. And honestly, in terms of originality, the plot didn’t fall short. When reading the official synopsis, I was convinced that I had already been told everything I needed to be told and that the journey would just be fleshing out the finer points that couldn’t fit in the summary, but the actual story ran a lot deeper than the synopsis made it sound.

With that said, I felt there were parts in the book that passed much too quickly. Admittedly, that’s much better than feeling there were parts in the book that dragged needlessly, but feeling as if you’re being rushed through the journey makes it harder to invest yourself and enjoy the ride.


The ending was one of the parts that I felt happened way too fast. The Dane twins were built up as big baddies, so I was expecting a boss battle. I mean, it could be a boss battle, but it’s like expecting the Nameless King and being greeted with Yhorm the Giant. I imagine, were you to have been present and seen the action unfold with your own eyes, the threat would feel much more intense. After all, both Kell and Lila got pretty messed up in the fight, so I understand that, in theory, what actually happened was intense and brutal, but it all passed by so quickly, I could hardly fear for their lives nor savor in their victory. Even after the Danes, when Kell has to battle with magic itself, which was the ultimate challenge he’d been presented with throughout the book, the struggle only lasts for a single chapter—six pages. And then there’s only fifteen pages afterward before the book reaches its end. You see what I mean by everything happens so fast?

The sad thing is, I know the fate of the Danes was satisfying. Were I given the chance to see it (which, I mean, there’s supposed to be a movie coming), I know it would have felt right. But while reading it, it felt like holding in a sneeze. I was waiting for some big turning point, but it was just suddenly over. Blink and you’ll miss it

Despite the problems I may have had with the book, I enjoyed the journey. Because I have so much I’m trying to work on these days, I like to pace myself to make sure I’m dividing my attention evenly, but there were days where I felt the need to read on beyond the page limit I had set for myself, which is always a good sign. Last year, when I first set the goal to read a book a month and would count how many pages I had to read a day to make that happen, there were some books where I struggled to meet my daily requirement. I’m thankful this wasn’t one of them.

At the end of the day, I think I’d feel the urge to read this book again at some point, or at least to revisit certain parts of it, which makes it a keeper!

This month, I’ll be reading Kill Creek by Scott Thomas. If it’s on your to-read list, join me! If not, I’ll be sure to let you know if it should be.

Until next time,


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