55 pages 1 hour read

V. E. Schwab

A Darker Shade of Magic

Fiction | Novel | YA | Published in 2015

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Summary and Study Guide


Published in 2015, V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic is a young adult fantasy novel and the first installment of the Shades of Magic trilogy. Kell Maresh, one of the last Antari magicians, possesses the rare ability to travel between parallel worlds. When a dangerous artifact from a forbidden realm falls into Kell’s possession, he and a thief named Lila Bard become entangled in a perilous adventure. The novel, which received a Goodreads Choice Award (2015) and a starred review from Publishers Weekly, explores themes of family, power, and consequence.

This study guide refers to the e-book edition released by Tom Doherty Associates in 2015.

Content Warning: The source material contains depictions of self-injury, sexual assault, torture, and homicide.

Plot Summary

Twenty-one-year-old Kell Maresh has the power to travel between worlds. Although many people in his home of Red London have some degree of magic, only blood magicians known as Antari possess this rare ability. In his official capacity as an emissary between worlds, Kell carries messages between the royals of the thriving Red London, the magicless Grey London, and the desolate White London. He also secretly smuggles trinkets between worlds. Queen Emira, King Maxim, and Prince Rhy Maresh of Red London treat Kell like a member of their family, but Kell suspects that his adoptive parents see him as a valuable tool rather than their son.

The only other known living Antari is a man named Holland Vosijk. One night, Holland gives Prince Rhy an enchanted necklace from the king and queen of White London. He also leaves a message for Rhy’s parents, who send Kell to White London to deliver a reply. The rulers of White London are the cruel Dane twins, Astrid and Athos. While Kell is in White London, a mysterious woman gives him a cloth-wrapped parcel. When Kell returns home, cloaked figures pursue him to obtain the parcel, which contains a powerful black stone. Kell realizes that he’s been tricked into bringing a dangerous relic of Black London to Red London. Black London fell centuries ago when its people’s greed for magic exceeded their ability to control it, and all remnants of the lost world were supposedly destroyed. The black stone responds to Kell’s wishes and suspends one of his pursuers in time, allowing him to escape.

Kell is injured by his pursuers and flees to Grey London, where a thief named Lila Bard steals the stone from him. Kell manages to reclaim the stone, but not before Lila uses it to wish a doppelganger of Kell into being. The doppelganger attacks her, and Kell dispels it, then escapes. Holland tracks down Lila and uses her to draw Kell into a trap. Holland seizes the black stone and uses its power to grievously harm Kell. Lila knocks Holland unconscious, reclaims the stone, and carries Kell to the Stone’s Throw Inn. The innkeeper, Barron, is like a father to Lila and helps her tend to Kell. When Kell awakens, he and Lila concoct a dangerous plan to return the stone to Black London, then set out for Red London. After they leave the Stone’s Throw, Holland comes looking for them and kills Barron.

Kell and Lila arrive in Red London on Prince Rhy’s birthday, keeping a low profile to avoid Holland. Holland, sensing them nearby but unable to locate them, attempts to lure them out of hiding: He burns down the inn where Kell keeps the tokens that allow him to travel between worlds, and he reveals that he killed Barron. Kell prevents Lila from giving them away. The royal family announces a reward for locating the “missing” Kell. Lila and Kell go to a pawn shop in search of another token from White London, but the shopkeeper summons the royal guards. Lila uses the black stone to hide herself, and the guards kill the shopkeeper and render Kell unconscious. Lila retrieves the token and hurries toward the palace.

When Kell awakens, he learns that Astrid Dane is using the enchanted necklace Holland delivered to possess and control Rhy. The Dane twins have the other half of the black stone, and they plan to conquer Red London and tear down the barriers between the worlds. Lila helps to free Kell, but Astrid stabs Rhy before relinquishing her control over him. Kell and Lila take Rhy to a sanctuary, and Kell saves the prince by binding his life to Rhy’s. Kell admits to Lila that he plans to take the stone to Black London by himself and that he will likely have to remain there forever. Still, she insists on accompanying him. When Kell opens a door to White London, Holland seizes him so that only Lila passes through. Holland attacks Kell and then deliberately allows his fellow Antari to strike him down. Kell carries the wounded Holland to White London and fights his way to the Danes’ castle with Lila.

Athos and Kell each possess half of the black stone, and they do battle. Athos uses his stone to summon a monstrous serpent. Kell tricks Athos into trying to dispel the serpent, and the magic turns on Athos and kills him. Lila loses her fight with Astrid, and the queen uses magic to assume Lila’s appearance and ask Kell for the stone. Realizing this is a trick, Kell destroys Astrid. The stone’s dark power compels Kell to unite the two halves and nearly takes over the magician completely. With Lila’s help, Kell manages to dispel the darkness. To ensure that the stone does no more harm, Kell sends it to Black London with Holland, who is near death. Kell worries that Lila may not be able to travel between worlds without the stone, but fortunately, they are both able to return to Red London. Kell and Lila explain the Danes’ plot and subsequent demise to King Maxim and Queen Emira. Kell reconciles with Rhy, who apologizes for falling for the Danes’ tricks. Feeling free for the first time in her life, Lila decides to remain in Red London and train her untapped magical potential.