4 parallel London’s, thievery, piracy, royalty, dark magic… this series has it all. I have tried to keep this as spoiler free as possible, but obviously when talking about multiple books in a series that is quite difficult. So please proceed with caution if you have yet to read the books but plan to, however I don’t think anything I have spoken about relates to the big plot twists and will neither hinder your overall experience.
The Shades of Magic series begins with A Darker Shade of Magic, set in a world where there are 4 London’s. Black London, which has been taken over by dark magic. White London, in which magic is sparse and dangerous. Red London, where magic is thriving. And Grey London, that has no magic at all.
In this world there is an elemental magic system, where people can manipulate certain elements. There are also Antari’s, rare magicians who can perform blood magic. Defined by having one black eye, there are only two Antari’s, and with this blood magic comes the ability for them travel between London’s. One of them is Kell, who was adopted into the royal family in Red London and acts as a messenger between the rulers of each London. The other is Holland, who is the property of the twin rulers of White London, Astrid and Athos.
On the side, Kell is also a smuggler, secretly moving artefacts between London’s for those who are willing to pay the right price for a glimpse of a world that they will never be able to see for themselves. This is how he meets our other main character, Lila, a thief from Grey London. One day Kell smuggles an artefact that originated from Black London, being completely oblivious to its power. Lila then steals it, and this is ultimately where the story begins to unfold, because the artefact is a magic stone, so powerful that when an object made from it falls into the wrong hands, slowly the dark magic spreads from person to person, turning their eyes and veins pitch black. From there a whirlwind of chaos and epic fight scenes emerge, for the twins want the stone to open the door between worlds in order to rule them all.
To begin with the magic system, I thought it was truly wonderful. I’ve seen a few people say it’s quite simplistic, and I guess concerning the elemental aspect, it is. But the ability that comes with blood magic is unlike anything I have ever read before, and along with being able to travel between worlds, there are a variety of commands that one can make with blood magic. Schwab also created words for each specific command, such as As Asthera meaning To Grow, and As Steno meaning To Break. This, to me, shows just how much thought she put into creating this system, and emphasises the intricacy of it.
The idea of 4 parallel universes of different magic levels that are connected by the city of London is what made me inclined to read this series in the first place. I was intrigued by how the worlds would work and interconnect, and I have to applaud Schwab for executing this so well. I think that the setting of 4 London’s is one of the series’ best selling points, for the reason that they are so vastly different from one another, and the sense we get for each one throughout the series really does transport you to the separate cities.
The author’s writing style did nothing but enhance my reading experience. Schwab’s writing is wonderfully concise, which makes her books quick to fly through despite their length and easy to read. She also has the ability to go in depth at all of the right moments; you never once feel that a scene lasted too long or was over too quickly. Moreover, she manages to give a great amount of detail and information about the setting without disrupting the actual story line, which is something I have found to be extremely rare for a first instalment in a fantasy series.
As for characters, I have never loved a cast more. Schwab did an excellent job of writing multidimensional characters who you just can’t help but adore. I particularly loved how Kell interacted with everyone (sometimes protectively, sometimes sarcastically, sometimes smartly). Lila is a character that I personally loved, but I know that some people find her a little frustrating at times. She is very confident in herself and her abilities, particularly those involving her knife, and can often be portrayed to look down at other people. But I really enjoyed reading about her, her ability to fight, and how despite her rough edges, she truly does care about the people around her. Rhy was also a joy to read. He is the prince to the Maresh Empire and Kell’s brother, and whilst he has a cocky attitude, he is also genuine and kind. Schwab was able to balance those elements ever so well.
Now to discuss A Gathering of Shadows, the book picks up a few months after the last one left off, with Kell and Rhy bound together, and Lila aboard The Night Spire as a crew member after crossing paths with captain Alucard. Over in White London, Holland’s body is also bound to something else, something strong and overbearing. He makes a deal with them to find another body to grow in, the body of someone we know all too well. Amidst the drama that all of this causes, Red London prepares for the Essen Tasch, the magic elemental games. Alucard and Lila sail back to participate in the tournament, and meanwhile in Red London Kell also plans to take part under a false identity.
If I had to choose a least favourite book in the series, it would be this one. It was still an absolute delight to read and I gave it 4 stars on Goodreads, but to me the others were worthy of 5 stars. The reason for this, however, is a very subjective one, and it’s that I am not a fan of magical tournaments in books as I get somewhat bored, and this book is majorly centred on the Essen Tasch. Although I personally wasn’t a fan of this, I can objectively say that Schwab wrote about it extremely well. I really enjoyed the build up and all of the suspense surrounding the event and who was taking part. It was all very necessary and I did love the chemistry between certain characters that this event brought out.
I also thought that the beginning was a little slow in comparison to the pace of the first instalment, but not necessarily in a negative way. We meet some new characters so the start mainly focuses on introducing them as well as interactions. It was beautifully written, but I think because I went into it with the expectation that it was going to be faster paced, I was slightly disappointed.
Two of the new characters we meet in this book that I specifically want to mention are Alucard and Hastra. Alucard, not only the captain of The Night Spire but also a royal from the House of Emery, is full of charm and witty one-liners. The banter he has with Lila, the sarcastic comebacks he gives to Kell, and the connection he has with Rhy were all traits that I adored. Hastra is almost the complete opposite of Alucard in his calm and caring nature, however he does prove to be very head strong and dedicated to the Maresh empire. There was also a lot of character development in this book. We got to see a different side to Holland which allowed me to empathise with him a lot more, and being introduced to Alucard gave us more information on Rhy’s background as they used to be close.
The novel goes on to be extremely heart wrenching and gruesome, and the cliffhanger made me pick up the third book immediately.
A Conjuring of Light, not only my favourite book in this series but also of all time, made me feel all of the feelings. There was no end of chaotic adventure and mayhem, all because of the primary plot of our main characters attempting to defeat a piece of dark magic that is parading around like a god. As much as I would love to delve deeper into the happenings of this book, I’ll refrain as I do not want to give too much away.
But what I will say is that along with the action that the conflict in this book brings, what ultimately made me care for it so much was the characters; I have never fallen in love with so many characters from one book series before. And i’m not only talking about Kell, Lila, Rhy, and Alucard (although I am very invested in their storylines and love them all dearly), but also some of the less predominant characters.
Holland truly had the best redemption arc I have ever read. At the beginning of the series he only appears to be cruel, but throughout the story we find out he has been to hell and back and all that he has lost. He ultimately became one of my favourite characters. King Maxim and Queen Emira also had many of their own chapters; I loved learning about the world from their viewpoints and seeing them interact with their sons. The Dane twins, as much as I despise them with my entire being, were crafted masterfully. The way Schwab managed to make me feel so much hatred towards two characters was incredible. Tieren and Lenos also deserve so much recognition despite their smaller roles in the story. They were two very kind characters who were a delight to read about.
As the books went on the amount of perspectives written from increased and I thoroughly enjoyed reading from everyone’s point of view. I laughed with them, I cried with them, and I will forever remember them. I appreciated their interactions with each other ever so much, as well as the sarcastic yet loving bonds which grew between them.
This conclusion to the Shades of Magic trilogy met all of my expectations and then also exceeded them. It wrapped everything up in an extremely satisfying, heartbreaking, and beautiful way. It was action-packed and intense from the very beginning to the very end, was fast paced but not rushed, and all plots were executed ever so perfectly. The lessons of good magic, bad magic, power, and control were fascinating to read about, and whilst I think this was a brilliant conclusion, my heart wishes for more.
Schwab definitely added a bit more humour into this book (probably to balance out all of the parts she included to make us readers cry) which I really loved. The banter between characters was just spot on. This was also the first ever book that I have marked up with sticky tabs, purely because there were so many great lines; funny, sad, thought-provoking, the whole lot. I still regularly flip back through the novel and re-read certain parts because this story just makes me so happy.
I hope that if you’ve read this series that you enjoyed it as much as I did, and if you are yet to pick it up, I hope this review has convinced you to do so. You will not be disappointed.