Reading V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic

Reading V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic (Part 8)

Well, it’s time to make a bargain and gain an adventure buddy! You knew that was coming, I assume.

Here is a link to the series index, for your convenience. Go there for previous entries!

Eight: An Arrangement



Kell wakes again in Lila’s bed, though he’s not tied up. The rain has stopped and it’s morning. For a moment, Kell wishes to be home, and imagines that Rhy is waking him; he wonders if the royal family has noticed that he’s missing yet. He tries to move, but his whole body feels like a bruise. When he opens his eyes, he finds Lila staring at him. She asks why he came back. He tells her he doesn’t know. She’s not pleased with the answer, but asks how he’s feeling. Kell realizes hat his cuts should have taken longer to mend, and Lila admits that she used his own healing salve she found in his coat. She points to the clothes that Barron left him, which Kell knows he will owe the man for.

Lila asks about Holland, and if there are any more of people like them. Kell tells her no, that they are the only two, and that Holland is the only one who can move between worlds like him. Lila points out that maybe Holland didn’t kill him because they’re alike, and Kell is forced to wonder if Holland was fighting his orders from Athos or following them in a sadistic fashion. Kell asks for the stone back, certain that holding it will make him feel better, but Lila insists on getting the whole story form him, or she’s not handing it over. He tells her that the stone is from Black London and that there are four worlds, and how he sorts them by color. He tells her that Black London fell. He explains to her that magic is alive, albeit in a different way than they are. Lila asks if that’s why the magic got angry when she tried to get rid of it, but Kell doesn’t know how to answer that.

Kell tells her that three centuries ago the worlds were bound together by magic, and people who wielded it could move between worlds with many sources, pools of natural power, the Thames being a key one. He explains that not every London was equal in their power, and Black London had the lion’s share—it believed that magic wasn’t only part of blood, but was a second soul to everything. The magic there grew too strong and overthrew the people there. Magic and humanity exist in each world, but in a perfect world they are balanced. Unfortunately, most worlds are not balanced. Grey London is the other end of the spectrum from Black, there humanity became strong and magic weakened. In Black London, the magic entered the minds of people and used them as fuel. It overtook them, and the other worlds were force to retreat. (Kell doesn’t explain that it was Red London’s withdrawal that forced the other two to do the same.) The assumption is that the plague of magic burned out in Black London as magic needs life to thrive. Now people think of the place as a fairy tale of a ghost story.

All the relics and items from Black London were destroyed, and White London took this task more seriously than the other worlds, afraid that their seals and doors wouldn’t hold. They didn’t just destroy items—they killed anyone that they believed came into contact with Black London’s magic. They say that some Antari marks were mistook in that way, and a generation of them were murdered before the denizens of White London realized that they would need Antari to reach between worlds at all. He tells her that the stone shouldn’t exist, but it does, and that it is pure magic. Lila realizes the problem; it is magic with no humanity, and therefore it cannot be in balance. She asks what Kell will do with it, and he realizes that it has to be destroyed, but he doesn’t know how to do it. It occurs to him that the jagged edge might be because someone tried, but it hasn’t damaged the stone’s power at all, and if shards came off, all of them would be dangerous. He doubts that even the strongest magic could unmake pure magic, so the stone must be lost. Sent away where it cannot harm anyone.

He has to take it back to Black London.

Antari magic made the doors, so he figures that Antari magic could open them again, at least a crack. Lila wonders why no one would have tried in all this time. Kell points out that you need a token from the world in addition to blood to make the door. The stone is a token. He cannot go directly to Black London, however. The world are like sheets of appear in a stack. He has to go through all the other Londons to reach Black London. Kell realizes this is going to be difficult; he has no idea who may be searching for him in each world, and Holland threw away his tokens, so he’ll need new ones. And he’ll need to escort the stone to Black London if he makes it that far. Lila asks when they leave. Kell insists that she can’t come, but she’s adamant. She wants a way out, even not knowing what she’s heading into. She knows the stone will let her through, and she wants to see the world, any world. She tells Kell that she’ll save his life. Kell knows this is a bad idea, but Lila is right that he isn’t strong enough to do it alone. And Lila is at least someone who could tell the Red royal family what was happening.

Kell asks what happens if she doesn’t survive, but Lila doesn’t seem to care. Kell is afraid death because Red London believes that magic reclaims magic and earth reclaims earth, and nothing of a person remains after death, only dust. He asks Lila if she’s afraid of dying, and she replies that she’s afraid of dying here. Kell finally agrees, and Lila pulls on her cloak, ecstatic. he asks if she wants to say goodbye, but she doesn’t, though she is briefly hesitant about it. Kell doesn’t blame her—he isn’t planning to say goodbye to Rhy either. He turns his coat around for the ruby red jacket, and Lila asks him how many there are in that coat. He admits he doesn’t know for certain, sometimes he finds new ones and old ones get lost. He gets a coin from his pocket to send them to Red London, and takes a halfpenny from Lila’s emptied pockets to replace his Grey London token. She figures they’re going to leave through the wall like he came in, but he tells her that they need to be closer to where they’re going in Red London and they set off.


We get a lot of very important info in this chapter, and it’s the good kind of infodump that makes sense because it’s information being given to a person who needs context. Kell explains how magic interacts with humanity, and how it’s alive. So magic in the universe is basically sentient? Kind of? If that’s the case, it would make sense of the things, though it really only prompts more questions. Like if that sentience is related to sentience as we understand it or not. Because if magic has a desire to feed off of life, is that an instinct, or a conscious choice on its part? Hm….

The Londons have only been separate for about three-hundred years, which isn’t actually that long of a time. We already know the plot takes place between 1810-20 in our world, during the illness of King George III. That means the disconnect Kell speaks of occurred toward the beginning of the sixteenth century, roughly during the transition between the Middle Ages and the Early Modern Period, which is a very interesting place to have a turning point. I’m super curious as to how that would pertain to fiction in our world, and it makes me want to track different version of popular narratives through those periods. Also, Kell mentions that certain areas of the world have magic “sources” like the Thames, and now I want to know what the other ones are. I’m guessing none of them would be man-made structures, so we’re talking about geological landmarks and natural wonders. Niagara Falls? The Bermuda Triangle? The Nile has to be one of them.

So, this is fantasy, which means that we’ve got a bit of questing narrative going on here, but it always bemuses the heck out of me to see how different authors tackle the “it’s dangerous to go alone” trope. Far from a Samwise Gamgee or a Hermione Granger, Kell is now stuck with an equally self-destructive danger bean who doesn’t really care if she dies, and is demanding to be taken along. This is an excellent friendship/potential romance combo. Reluctant duos. This is good.

Also, Lila’s sorting of the London’s—Dull London, Kell London, Creepy London, Dead London—is better than Kell’s. Sorry, Kell. She’s got you beat.

Kell thinks about how his people view dying, which he mentions as everything coming to dust, which I know is an old religious terminology. But now that Infinity War exists, I will never be able to think of dust as it relates to death without sniggering a little. Ahem. I mean. It’s very serious and sad and Kell’s ruminations on death are very important business. Yes.

I still want his coat. We learn more about it in this chapter, about how it has different sides that he loses or new sides that he discovers. Which then made me realize that we don’t know where the coat came from. My assumption was that Kell created it, but it could be a sort of inherited piece. A Rubix cube piece of clothing.



Lila and Kell makes their way through the city. He brings them to Whitburn Street, which will deliver them a couple of blocks from the Ruby Fields. He tells her that his room at the tavern will have what he needs to make a door to White London. Lila asks worriedly if she might run into herself in his world, if there might be another Lila, but Kell assures her that he’s never met anyone like her at all. They get to the doorway, and Kell puts his coat around Lila’s shoulders. He knows the magic won’t be fooled by that, but he does it anyway. In return, Lila gives him her handkerchief, claiming it links them, though Kell insists it doesn’t work like that. Kell tells Lila to take the stone in hand. She presses close to him and insists that she won’t die until she’s seen everything. Then she kisses him (for luck), and Kell utters the traveling spell, and they both step through the door.


I really love the descriptions of how Lila keeps her fear under wraps. I feel like a lot of female and female-adjacent people can relate to that, since showing any kind of fear can feel extra risky when you’re perceived to be the weaker party. That’s clearly where a lot of Lila’s demeanor comes from, in addition to being on her own most of her life. The idea that she might die, but still needs to take the risk is such an important distinction in how bravery manifests.

Kell should maybe not lose any more blood though, I feel bad that he has to travel so soon after that near-death experience. And a kiss for luck—one of the most important building blocks to romance that ever existed in fiction. I’ve never been sure about my feelings on it as a device, despite the fact that it’s a relatively blithe and silly excuse. But I’m clearly willing to forgive Lila a lot, so I guess it’s down to Kell to decide how he feels about it.



Barron wakes to a sound he doesn’t recognize. He knows the strange things about his tavern, knows them well enough to be familiar and fine with them, but this is different. It’s a sound coming from Lila’s room, and it fills him with a sense of wrongness and danger. He knows Lila and Kell have left, so this is a stranger. Barron has a shotgun, and he takes it down now, and heads up to Lila’s room. He opens the door and finds Holland inside, just as Lila described him, holding her silver pocket watch. Barron fires the shotgun without hesitation, but Holland stops the metal pellets from ever reaching his chest—they fall to the floor. Then he wrenches the gun from Barron’s hands using magic. Barron is rooted to the spot against his will. Holland asks where they are, and Barron admits that he has no idea. So Holland slits his throat.


Ah, I was saying earlier that I wondered what Kell’s brand of magic smelled like, what specific flowers, and Barron thinks lilies and grass. I have to say, lilies are not a favorite of mine, but I’m suuuuuuuper weird about flower smells. There are only a few that I like, and the rest are overpowering to me. (Which is weird because I have a terrible sense of smell.) Lilies are one of those too-much scents.

And Barron is dead. Probably. That’s… that’s depressing. I mean, you usually have one key sacrifice early on, and he’s the only person outside the main crew who we know well enough, but. Is sad. I’m sad. You’re sad. Let’s be sad together.

Emmet Asher-Perrin is still sad for Barron. You can bug her/him on Twitter and Tumblr, and read more of her/his work here and elsewhere.


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