Book Discussion: A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (Week 1)

Thursday, March 01, 2018

Welcome to the A Darker Shade of Magic book discussion! We are going to have a blast reading along together. Each week, following the schedule, my friend Jackie and I will recap that particular week’s chapters with hilarious commentary. At the end of each discussion post, there will be a few questions to get the party started. These questions serve as food for thought. All comments related to the book and this week’s chapters are always welcome! Remember: I am giving away a copy of the paperback edition of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab (for extra entries, comment below)! Now, let’s get this party started!

This week, we'll be discussing Part 1, Chapters 1 to 3. To depict our thoughts in the most coherent way possible (after all, this is a dialogue between friends), my font color will stay black and Jackie's color will be red.

DISCLAIMER: Spoilers ahead! This post discusses this week’s chapters of A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab. If you do not want to be spoiled on what happens in the book, don’t read any further.

Let's Talk About That Cover

Jeanna: Wow, this is so exciting! A new year, a new discussion! Plus, A Darker Shade of Magic sounds like it will be absolutely amazing.

First, before we get into the meat of the chapters for this week, let’s take a look at that cover. Honestly, when I first saw the cover, I thought there were just three shapes: two circles and a triangle. But now I can see it must be Kell and his lovely coat. I have to wonder though, does Black London make an appearance as the two circles are red and black--on my copy. Any thoughts on the cover, Jackie?

Jackie: While I was looking at the cover, I was wondering (without having read anything about it at that point), where is this person on the cover going? And yeah, I was noticing that there was only the black and red circles as I wonder if Grey London as Kell refers to it as, does it make as big appearance or if is it just somewhere where the Prince and King will be visited from time to time.

That would kind of be suiting since Grey London forgot about magic, so Kell forgets about Grey London, heh.

Jeanna: That’s a good point, I didn’t even think of that. It’s interesting because Kell mentioned there are four worlds:

  • Grey London
  • Black London
  • Red London
  • White London
But Black London is not even a location anymore from what we’ve read today. It’s really interesting that they chose those colors on the cover. I haven’t read the synopsis for the book, but I wonder if Black London will return and like you said, Grey London will eventually be forgotten. I found Grey London to actually be sort of a reflection of our world, but in historic times.

Jackie: Yeah, I’m thinking that something big is going to happen with Black London, or that stuff has been going on there since it’s, kind of, mentioned a lot by Kell that it is no longer a habitable area, but you know in books how they set it up so it seems like it is no big thing, but it really is, if that makes sense.

The cover is also interesting in a way since we do not see a clear picture of the main character’s face, but we are given enough of a visual to get the idea of the “magic cape” look and the strong, important person that has a mission they have to complete. I’m not sure exactly what is in store for us, but the cover is beautiful and from what I’ve read, I’m excited to see what comes of this book!

Jeanna: Yes, me too! It certainly caught my interest. Plus, there’s a lot of hype surrounding this book. Lots of people love it, so I’m excited!

Part 1: Chapter 1

So there were quite a few things happening in this chapter. One, we get our introduction of Kell who has this awesome coat. Then, we are introduced to these alternate universes. However, the first chapter is set in Grey London, where we meet the King.

First, let’s talk about Kell and thus go further into the chapter. I really like his name. It’s short, sweet. I’ve never met a guy named Kell before and I think it’s a pretty cool name. Also, can we talk about his fashion sense? That coat of his is pure amazing. Need to be sold in stores everywhere. END

Jackie: Yeah, when I was first reading about his coat, I was thinking that Carmen Sandiego needed his coat to try and hide better from those trying to find her...but would that make her more easy to spot since it has so many sides? Anyway, I think she should have used Kell’s coat for the cool-ness factor. I also thought the fact that a coat like this in 1819 would have stood out since this seems like a pop-out clothing piece, but then again, this is a world with magic, so I’m sure the coat seems more normal than anything to most people in this world. 

But, as the king was being described in this chapter, I noticed that it specifically says two things: 

  • His rings had to be taken away so he wouldn’t hurt himself.
  • His fingernails were cut short so he could not hurt himself.
Why would he have any desire to hurt himself? I mean, being initially introduced to this character, he just seemed enthused (see what I did there) with Kell’s magic…


In all seriousness, I wonder if he has something seriously wrong with him or if this is a precautionary thing for something he is currently going through?

Jeanna: It makes you wonder why he is still King. Not only did Kell mention about his rings and fingernails, but also that the doors of the room were locked from the outside. The king is a prisoner in his own home. I hope we find what ails him, or at least some backstory to why he acts the way he does later in the story. Also, it definitely shows the readers who's really in charge here. Since the letter he receives from the Queen of Red London is only two sentences. TWO SENTENCES. What a waste of good paper? If your making Kell play messenger across worlds, you’d think they would have more to say to each other.

When I was reading, I thought the King a bit childish. This ritual of Kell trading a newer coin with him has obviously been going on for a while. It’s interesting and also strange. What is so important about a coin that he can’t even use in his own world? Is it merely a collector’s item? And, I know this is mentioned in the second chapter, but since we are on the topic of the King: the King sounds like he worships at Kell’s feet. In following whatever Kell says to be truth-- as Kell mentioned that the King could fly and then he starts jumping out windows.

Jackie: I hope we get to know more about the King as well, he seems like someone with some major stuff that went on or has stuff still going on, for better or for worse. Yeah, I noticed the part about the letter being only two sentences long, but I was thinking that since it came from another region, was this because the sender had been hurt? But maybe you’re right, and the Queen is just really the one making more of the decisions than the King at this point. 

Oh, and I agree that the King is childish, but I didn’t have the same interpretation of the coin. I thought of this as the King having an escape from his worldly prison. I mean the poor guy is blind, has already had his rings and fingernails taken away or trimmed so that he won’t hurt himself, and on top of that, he is stuck inside this room that he has no jurisdiction or option to leave until someone opens it. I just thought that the ring and his interactions with Kell gave him a sense of his youth when he was more free to do what he wanted and had less of a prisoner’s existence. I think he just liked speaking to Kell for someone new and inspirational to speak to, as well as, having the coin for a sense of feeling magic-- something that can’t be bound by rules, senses, and locked doors.

Hey, I thought that the jumping thing was a funny joke until Kell mentioned that the King actually started to try and jump out of windows when Kell told him that he could fly. That would have been bad... but would much have changed for Grey London if he had come to his demise? I mean he doesn’t seem to be the one in control...

Jeanna: I like your idea that the coin serves as a sort of escape for him. And I agree that Kell seems to give the King some liveliness; I don’t think the King must have many visitors. So, it is incredibly nice of Kell to make his visit to the King first and a priority. It shows how much Kell respects him or respects the idea of his title, I suppose.

And it’s a sad truth that, probably, not a lot would change if the King were to die. Grey London would go on as always.

Let’s talk about the actual process that Kell goes through to different locations and to different worlds. It’s sort of like a demon circle. At least, that’s what I thought of. And he has a knife wrapped around his wrist at all times but he doesn’t remember where he got it, even though it has his initials on it. That’s so mysterious. What happened in his past that he doesn’t remember a time that he wasn’t a messenger between worlds?

i have no memory of this place GIF

Jackie: Yeah, I was wondering the same thing about him having a life he can’t remember. WHAT?! 

I mean CLIFFHANGER, well for us since we stopped at the end of Part 1 and it wasn’t mentioned again. I mean it seems like there’s certain things he needs to have so this transportation will work, blood is definitely one thing along with the circles having the correct symbols, and being closed circles. I think it is interesting that the magic has certain limits on how these magicians can travel. I mean, in other forms of literature and pop-culture television shows and movies, magic transportation seems to have no limits, so setting the boundaries now is interesting.

Jeanna: Yeah, it’s interesting for Schwab to place those boundaries, those rules in her world. Also, it’s interesting that his magic works at all in this world that no magic resides.

Part 1: Chapter 2

I thought this chapter rather short. We get to meet Prince Regent who, I can only guess, is the royal running the show. So, you have the King locked in his rooms and Prince Regent is getting the full, long letters and he’s getting the kingly treatment. Also, I think he is kind of a brat-- I mean, he was nothing but rude to Kell.

Here Kell is, gives him his letter and then Prince Regent wants him to have dinner with him. At first, I thought that was nice of him. He was going to give him food but Kell took it a different way. It kind of reminded me of Pocahontas 2, when Pocahontas is dining at the palace and they bring the circus bear in for laughs. Now, since it’s so early in the story, we don’t know for sure if Prince Regent is being nice or if Kell is right and he wants to show off Kell to all his friends.

Bette And Dot GIF

We also get a look at Kell's eye which is interesting. I hadn’t pictured in the first chapter with his hair falling over his eye but now I cannot unsee Kell with this unkempt hair that is always in front of his eyes. Also, is his eye the source of all his power?

Jackie: Yeah, I agree about the Prince. I thought he had some other intentions for Kell, so I was happy when Kell declined the dinner party. Also, I enjoyed when Kell stole the Prince’s quill, because from what Kell says, the Prince is a jerk, so he probably had something like that coming to him anyway. 

Yes, I thought his eye was interesting. I’m not sure if it is the source of his magic or not, but I remember Kell saying that magic was inside of his eye, hence it being void of color. 

I know this was briefly mentioned by us in Chapter 1, but in this chapter Kell went more into the sections of London and how he came to name him the way he did:

As far as Black London goes, there was too much magic there, and the place basically imploded on itself, or so we are told by Kell. I found it interesting that even after something like that, Red London still has a major amount of magic going on. I mean, if I heard that Black London story, I would probably be more prone to not dabble into magic so my home doesn’t destroy itself. As far as White and Grey London go, I consider these places to be the more wise of the London sections since they are trying to do more without magic. Getting to read about the history of this world that Schwab created was interesting, and made me think about how reliable of a source Kell is. I mean, what role did he have in Black London? He must have had some kind of connection to this place. So, this makes me rethink my opinion of the Prince, is Kell reliable, or is the Prince just a person looking for attention because he knows a magician like Kell?

Jeanna: I didn’t think that Kell would have any role in Black London. However, it does make me think that Kell is not telling us the whole truth right now, probably as further problems arise, will he expand on Black London. Also, Grey London is a wiser choice to call home as the magic is not there. However, White London is described as the starving country. And I don’t think Kell elaborated on this. What are they starving of? The most assumed answer would be food and other necessities. And is White London without magic?

Also, I didn’t even think anything of it when Kell stole Prince Regent’s quill. However, now that we know (after reading chapter 3), Kell sells items on the Black Market, so to speak, that maybe he is looking to find someone who would be interested in an item from a royal.

Jackie: Maybe White London is starving for magic too? I mean, I know Grey London has pretty much forgotten it, but there could still be magic sparsely found around there. Also, Kell is a MIRROR MAN, as he was referring himself in his reflection in the water as he was walking around Grey London. 

supernatural dean winchester GIF

I was also wondering what purpose there was to Kell’s coat changes. Now he has changed from the initial red to black (when meeting with the King and Prince), and now to this brown color. Is there any purpose to these different sides of his coat, or are there just an infinite number of purposefulness sides of Kell’s coat?

Jeanna: Yes, Kell is a Mirror Man! I love it!

As for the coat changes, I think there’s a precise purpose to each side. How many sides does this coat have; I don’t think we will ever find out. However, his red one seems more glamorous than all the other sides, which is why he only wears it in Red London (so far). With the black coat, I thought it was probably a modest, nice look for him to fit in. So, I was kind of imagining Red London like the Capitol of the Hunger Games and now he has entered the real world… so he needs to fit into something still appropriate for a visit with royalty but also that fits the fashion of Grey London. When he leaves the Prince, we see another side of the coat: the brown one which is bit more of the street style of Grey London. I’m in love with his coat. I think this is the best thing since sliced bread. I want one for myself.

Part 1: Chapter 3

We get to take a stroll in Grey London. How nice! Kell takes us to The Stone’s Throw Tavern. Not only do I love that name for a pub, but what’s it a stone’s throw to? Also, I thought it interesting that the tavern is a fixed point in all the worlds. I do ask it as a question down below but, what makes a fixed point in all worlds. What makes this tavern, which is a tavern in every world, so special?
Also, I wonder if this fixed point is where Kell conducts all of his Black Market trading. In this chapter, we learn about Collectors and Enthusiasts. And we get to meet both types of people which was cool!

Kell has been carrying this toy magic box, meant for children, to give to a buyer. I thought the box was incredible. I would have loved to have gotten a bit more backstory on the box itself. Like, was this box Kell’s? As we saw, he clearly can move each element in the box: an Avatar of sorts. So, has Kell always had an affinity for all elements or is he self-taught and what element is his primary?

avatar the last airbender GIF

Jackie: Yes, I was wondering as well with this fixed point. What makes a fixed point in this universe and why is traveling limited to these locations? 

I thought it was interesting that we got to meet the Collectors and Enthusiasts as well. The Enthusiast we got to meet, Ned, I thought was interesting since we were given the name of this person. Does this mean we will be meeting up with Ned again at some point later in the book, or just convenience of having the name given to the readers? 

I thought the magic box was so cool. I thought of the Avatar as well and had the theme song start running through my head. I wish we would have gotten more backstory on this box as well, but maybe we will encounter this box again later. I’m thinking that if the magicians have an affinity, that Kell’s may be the bones, since he said he is a blood magician and he specifically said that if the Enthusiasts were to move the bones element that they could move bodies. So, I just connected the blood to bodies, so maybe that would be his strongest element? 

I also thought it was interesting that Kell didn’t want money or currency from the Collectors, he wanted something of value from them. What is the purpose to this? I mean why not get a few different types of currency as you go along selling these boxes? Also, why does everyone, or a out of the Collectors at least, give Kell music boxes? Why are these the most valuable items that the Collectors happen to be carrying with them? Seems odd that everyone is carrying these items. What do you think, Jeanna?

Jeanna: This reminds again of how the King wanted a coin. The coin does not represent its monetary value for the King, rather the sentiment of escape. If that makes sense. Also, if Kell is in and out of these worlds so quickly and is only visiting the royals, he probably doesn’t need a lot of money on hand. Though I do wonder, if he doesn’t have Grey London money, how did he pay for his drink at the tavern?

Also, I don’t think the boxes are all he’s selling. From what I gather, he’s known in this tavern as the Black Market tradesman. Like Ned wanted a bit of Earth. And then in turn, Kell had to make the trade worth while. He didn’t specify what he wanted so I think he may have given the same instructions to the collector who just brought a music box for a trade. It was surprising that Kell collects music boxes. He doesn’t strike me as the kind of person who is too sentimental. He likes these boxes for what they represent: a piece of magic that a non-magic world created. It’s a lovely machine that becomes even more lovelier in his eyes because it does not contain magic. Something that I think his people of Red London do not realize - how easy magic makes everything. And how greedy it makes some.

In the case of the Enthusiast, I do definitely think we will see him again. And I don’t think the next meeting will be as nice either. The Enthusiast, Ned, left in quite a huff so I think we will be seeing him again soon. And he’ll probably even get his bit of Earth. I wonder what he will bring Kell though.

Also, how many music boxes is several? Does he have a whole room of music boxes? What does his collection look like? And did you see Kell as a Collector initially?

stan marsh problems GIF by South Park

Jackie: Yeah, Kell doesn’t strike me as a sentimental person either, but hey to each their own. Like you said, maybe it’s a source of solace and complacency for him since he wants something from a magic world with non-magic properties and uses. 

I think Ned was pretty upset upon leaving, so I’m sure if we see him again the meeting will not be a good one. 

Maybe we can nickname Kell as Music Man for all the music boxes he must have stored in his home or in his layers of his coat. I didn’t see Kell as a collector of music boxes, but I guess maybe he was a Collector in his life that he can’t remember, maybe that’s why he is collecting these music boxes. Maybe in his life before magic, he was some type of bard or musician so that’s why he as a connection to these music boxes. I guess as we continue reading each week we will slowly unravel the many mysteries of Kell.

Jeanna: That’s interesting to think that in his life before, he may have been a musician. I didn’t even think of that, that would explain his draw towards the music boxes. Also, a small side note: how many pockets does this coat have? Is it the never-ending bag of Mary Poppins?

We shall certainly see what his character becomes. I’m sure we will definitely be delving deeper into Kell’s past as we go along.

This concludes this week's chapters of the discussion. What did you think?

  • What types of other magicians do you believe there are in this world? What group would you want to be in?  
  • I wonder what has happened to the King: old age, maybe side effects of being around magic too long? What do you think has happened to him?
  • Was Kell a part of this magic incident that happened in Black London, or did this place implode on itself? 
  • If you could have a coat like Kell’s, what would yours look like?
  • What makes a location constant between worlds; what makes a fixed point?
  • If blood does not make an Antari, then what does and why do so few remain?

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