A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab: FAQ and Character Overview

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A Darker Shade of Magic is the first book in the Shades of Magic main trilogy written by the amazingly talented, V.E. Schwab. The first book was published in early 2015, and the series has since expanded with prequel graphic novels and a spin-off trilogy in late 2022.

In this article, you can find answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about the book, as well as information on the characters of the series.

This article mainly focuses on the first installment of the series – a Darker Shade of Magic. This article is completely spoiler-free.

What is a Darker Shade of Magic about?

Kell is one of the last Antari. The Antari are magicians with the ability to travel between parallel Londons; red, white, gray, and black.

Kell does exchanges between the Londons and delivers messages between the rulers except for Black London, since the place’s magic died out a long time ago.

Kell has to flee to Gray London after an exchange goes awry. There he meets Delilah Bard – a pick-pocketer with hopes for a different life and adventures.

Kell and Lila have to work together to save all the Londons – while staying alive of course. 

Is a Darker Shade of Magic YA?

The whole series does read with the ease of a young adult novel with plenty of dialogue, short chapters, and quick pacing. However, due to the harder-hitting themes and darker scenes in the book, it is not classified as YA.

I would recommend this book to ages 16 and up. Please be mindful of when picking up this book or recommending it to others, since there is some torture and sexual references. 

Themes

The main saying in this book is that in the wrong hands, power can have dangerous consequences.

Other present themes are friendship and the connection between family and the love that stems from that.

When and where does the setting of this book take place? 

The series takes place in the early 1800s in the parallel Londons; Gray, Red, White, and Black.

Is a Darker Shade of Magic a romance?

A Darker Shade of Magic focuses more on the action and fantasy aspects of the story.

However, there is some romance and it is a bigger subplot later on in the series. We also get not one, but two cute couples to root for!

Are there LGBTQ+ characters or relationships in this book?

While it is not explicitly said in the book, there is a character who is heavily implied to be bisexual.

There is also a side character whose thoughts are described a bit, and they reveal his attraction toward the same sex.

Is a Darker Shade of Magic an enemies-to-lovers story?

No, a Darker Shade of Magic is not enemies-to-lovers. 

Is it spicy?

While the series leans more toward the new adult age rating, there are no mature scenes in the books. There are some sexual references made but not outright scenes.

Is a Darker Shade of Magic good?

In my opinion, it absolutely is!

Schwab’s writing is very unique and truly a pleasure to read. I could not put any of these books down.

The pacing is quite fast and there are some funny scenes to make you laugh. However, you might get emotional as well reading this series.

Overall, the world-building, magical elements, and especially the characters are the true highlights of the book. 

A Darker Shade of Magic has a 4.07 rating on Goodreads and has been nominated for a few awards.

The Shades of Magic series has been translated into multiple languages and a movie is currently in production with no public release date yet. 

The Magic System

The magic system in this book is a crucial part of the story and can be quite intimidating to remember all the bits and pieces of information. Here is a simplified rundown of the magic system in the series.

Each of the four Londons has a different relationship with magic. 

Gray London is the most similar to our world, and there, the people have forgotten magic entirely.

In White London, the hunger for power and so, magic, has turned the world cruel and cold. 

In Black London, the magic wasn’t controllable and it took over. The magic destroyed the world.

Red London is the most balanced, since many of its residents use magic, yet it does not overpower them or create a merciless hierarchy.

Many magicians have an affinity for one or two of the usual elements; fire, earth, air, and water. Antari can control all the elements. 

Regular magic doesn’t require spells or any verbal incantations, but the caster sometimes uses them to ground and focus oneself. Only the Antari use blood magic and it requires spoon spells in their language.

What to read after a Darker Shade of Magic?

Well, a good choice would be to jump into the sequel – A Gathering of Shadows. The book takes place a little after the events of a Darker Shade of Magic, but it does continue with the story and since you’re already familiar with the world and characters, what better book is there to continue with?

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo – This one is the first book in a duology and perfect for fans of V.E. Schwab’s writing in my opinion. With an amazing set of characters, the same quick pacing, and an immersive yet funny story, this duology is definitely worth picking up.

Caraval by Stephanie Garber – If you liked the adventure a Darker Shade of Magic took you on, this trilogy is worth picking up. The magical whimsy of this world is just as well built as in Shades of Magic. The characters and magical elements are new as well as refreshing so this story might just be up your alley. 

Vicious by V.E. Schwab – While all of Schwab’s books are worth the read, Vicious is a good one to jump into after this series. It has darker elements but the story is truly unusual and amazing nonetheless. And of course, the writing is again fantastic with quick pacing. Something that this author is particularly good at is writing morally gray characters, which you can find in Vicious as well.

Character Overview

Kell

While the story is told in the third person, we mostly follow Kell’s perspective. He is the main protagonist of the books.

Kell Maresh is from Red London and one of the last Antari. He is also a prince of Arnes since the king and queen adopted him.

His right eye is completely black and marks him as Antari. He is described as tall, auburn-haired, and fair-skinned with an ever-present scowl adorning his features.

Kell has a magical coat that has several sides to it (which of course, is impossible).

Stubborn, serious, and private as well as caring, focused, and strong-willed are all fitting descriptions of Kell. 

Lila

Delilah Bard is a resident of Gray London. She is a thief that gets by in life solely on her own and has a hard time trusting others.

She is very cunning and smart, prideful as well as daring. Lila dreams of the life of a pirate and adventure out on the sea.

Kell’s life turns completely on its side when Lila enters it and she forces him to come out of his shell a bit.

Lila is skinny and has short brown hair. She has also had a glass eye since childhood.

Thanks to her not very feminine physique, Lila can pass as a boy at times to pass by people unnoticed. This she uses to her advantage, for example, during pick-pocketing.

The author has stated that Lila is genderfluid – to the extent that someone in 1819 would instinctively be. 

Rhy

Rhy Maresh is the biological son of king Maxim and queen Emira Maresh. He is the crown prince and therefore, Kell’s brother.

Kell often feels like he isn’t part of the Maresh family, but does whole-heartedly consider Rhy his brother. Kell is very protective of Rhy and often cautious of everything and everyone around them when they go out together.

Rhy likes to have fun and is much less serious about life in general than Kell.

While Rhy is definitely kind and generous, he can be quite reckless and quick-tempered. Kell often has to come to his brother’s aid due to the prince’s antics.

Rhy is described as having tanned skin and curly black hair. 

Ned

Ned Tuttle is a long-limbed, lanky man, who is a magic enthusiast from Gray London.

He thinks of himself as a magician and is looking for material to practice his magic with. Ned’s luck might just be on his side when he meets Kell in a tavern…

Holland

Holland Vosijk is also one of the last Antari. He is from White London and serves the Dane twins that rule over White London.

Holland shows his true emotions very little and always appears calm, cool, and collected.

He has very pale skin, black hair as well as the black eye that marks him as Antari.

If you made it to the end of this article, thank you so much for reading! Also, if you have any further questions or just thoughts about the series, don’t hesitate to leave a comment below.

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