my special editions of the shades of magic trilogy - highly recommend!

Shades of Magic Review: A Must-Read for Fantasy Lovers

Shades of Magic, a fantasy book trilogy that somehow slipped under the radar for many years, has unexpectedly become one of my favorite series of all time. It’s surprising that there isn’t more buzz on BookTok or BookTube about this captivating story filled with magic and adventure. However, fortune favored me, and stumbled upon The Fragile Threads of Power, which led me to this gem of a series.

The Shades of Magic Trilogy completely blew me away with its intricate world-building, complex characters, and unique magical system. With an engrossing plot woven throughout the three books, it was nearly impossible to put them down once I began reading.

In hindsight, I am grateful to have accidentally discovered this series, which only solidified its place as a must-read for lovers of fantasy and magic. So this is less of a Shades of Magic review than a love letter. And hopefully, by the end, I’ll have convinced you to give the series a try.

Disclaimer: There are affiliate links in the article below, which means I may earn a commission if you make a purchase after clicking on one. Full disclosure here.

my special editions of the shades of magic trilogy - highly recommend!

Read if:

  • You need an entry or reentry point into reading fantasy

  • You love character-driven plots

  • You love a subplot with a slow burn romance

  • You like great action sequences

  • You’re looking something that bridges the gap between YA and adult fantasy

Skip if:

  • You’re looking for a full-blown romantic fantasy

  • You want a fast-moving plot

You can also watch my video review of this series here:

Series Overview

The Shades of Magic trilogy consists of three books: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, and A Conjuring of Light.

Each one takes the reader on a magical journey through four unique Londons, each with a different level of magic.

I’ve thoroughly enjoyed my time spent within the pages of this magic series, and found myself immersed in the story of Kell and Lila, who navigate the complex relationships between these parallel worlds.

The books are filled with intricate details, and their rich plots only deepen as you progress through the trilogy.

Side Note: For those of you who are interested in collecting or gifting these engaging novels, I’d like to recommend the special edition boxed set that I purchased.

The hardcover set comes with beautifully drawn fan art printed on the endpages, reading ribbons for the first two books, and a wonderful poster showcasing the maps of the four Londons. It’s a great way to enhance your reading experience and cherish these captivating stories.

Beyond the incredible world-building and fascinating characters, what sets the Shades of Magic series apart is its seamless blend of adventure, romance, and thought-provoking themes.


I found that the plot of Shades of Magic is highly character-driven. Some readers might feel this approach makes for a slow plot, but I personally enjoyed all the relationship-building and introspection throughout the series.

The story unfolds in a world where ominous magical events, perilous magic, and frequent bloody regime changes are prevalent.

Amidst this chaotic scenario, the characters face a series of magical trials that push them beyond their limits, eventually reaching a breaking point. You’ll like this series if you’re intrigued by:

  • Ominous magical events: These events add an air of mystery and danger to the plot, as characters are thrust into unexpected situations.

  • Frequent bloody regime changes: This element adds a touch of historical context and political intrigue to the story, as power shifts between factions.

  • Perilous magic: Magic in this world is far from safe, and the characters must navigate its potential hazards with great caution.

  • Dangerous consequences: As characters face various challenges, they are confronted with the possible repercussions of their choices.

  • Magical trials: These tests of skill and ability push the characters to their limits, providing opportunities for growth and self-discovery.

  • Breaking point: A pivotal moment in the plot, this is where the characters are forced to make life-altering decisions.

While the over-arching plot weaves through all three books, it takes somewhat of a backseat at times throughout the series – particularly in the second installment. However, the action and adventure never wane, which kept me engaged throughout the series.

Overall, I found the plot of Shades of Magic to be a wonderful blend of character development, world-building, and thrilling events. The connection I developed with the characters only served to enrich my experience and draw me further into their world.


The story takes place across four distinct versions of London:

  • Grey London: A mundane and ordinary world with no magic.

  • Red London: A prosperous land with vibrant magic, home to the Maresh Empire.

  • White London: A desolate and brutal world with dwindling magic, where power is hoarded by the merciless rulers.

  • Black London: A mysterious and dangerous world, consumed by magic-gone-wrong and now sealed off from the other worlds.

The world-building is very well done, you never feel overwhelmed at any point and its easy to envision the things that VE Schwab describes. In fact, it feels very cinematic to me. (I can’t fathom how this hasn’t been turned into a movie or TV show yet!) The magic system is clever and logical, consisting of elemental magic and a special type of blood magic available only to the Antari.


Main Characters

All the characters in Shades of Magic are what make the series so captivating.

First, we have Kell Maresh, the protagonist, who is one of the last surviving Antari, the only type of magician that can traverse to the other Londons. He is immensely powerful and was raised in a royal family.

Despite his status, he displays quite a bit of vulnerability, which I find makes him an endearing character. I find myself cheering for him throughout the series.

Another central character is Delilah Bard, or Lila, who is quite the polarizing figure among readers due to her cutthroat personality. Lila, an orphaned thief from Grey London, is a tough-as-nails individual who is fears attachment and is always looking out for herself.

Of course, one cannot forget about Prince Rhy, Kell’s brother, and the pirate Alucard. These two bring depth and intrigue to the story with their unique personalities and backgrounds.

Last but not least, we have Holland, a character from White London, and another Antari, albeit a darker and more mysterious version. His presence adds tension and conflict to the narrative.


In the Shades of Magic series, readers will find several themes that add depth to the story.

Competing loyalties emerge as a significant theme. For instance, Kell feels torn between his love and loyalty to his adoptive family, the monarchy of Red London, and the desire to break away from the chains that bind him.

Both Kell and Lila, another central character, come from different backgrounds but share the same yearning for freedom.

In their respective quests, they discover unique abilities within themselves and realize the potential they hold. However, they also learn that their journey towards freedom is not without its price.

As the story unfolds in this magical world, the characters also confront the theme of life and the delicate balance between power and responsibility. For example, Kell’s coveted ability takes on a new perspective when he examines the potential consequences it might bring.

The characters are confronted with crucial decisions that force them to assess their relationships, their past, and the greater good.

These themes weave together a captivating story, inviting us to reflect on these topics and their relevance in our own lives.

Writing Style

I adore VE Schwab’s writing style; it’s the perfect balance between prose and accessibility.

While some books can be a bit too wordy or verbose, Schwab’s writing in this series manages to be both straightforward and elegantly beautiful.

One aspect that truly stands out in her writing is the vivid imagery she creates.

As I read, I could effortlessly picture each scene as if I were watching a movie, which made me feel truly immersed in the world she built.

This well-crafted style of writing certainly contributed to the engaging nature of the proper adventure portrayed in the story. The action-packed scenes in Shades of Magic were also a delight to experience, thanks in large part to Schwab’s writing style.

Her prowess in crafting clear and intense action sequences effectively conveyed the excitement and danger the characters faced. These moments truly came alive on the page, which is why I tore through this entire series in 10 days flat.


The romance is another one of my favorite things about this series. Although firmly in the fantasy genre, there are a couple of romantic subplots taht are positively swoon-worthy.

The romantic tension is artfully built throughout the series. By taking the slow-burn approach, I found myself cherishing even the smallest glimpses of romance between characters.

This method effectively showcases the concept that less can be more when it comes to romance in literature.

For example, when I read “romanticizes” or other stories with love as the central plot, sometimes it feels like the author is hitting me over the head with it, and it feels like too much. However, in the Shades of Magic series, the romance is like the perfect sprinkle of sugar—a delightful addition, but not overpowering.

The balance between the magical and romantic aspects of the story is masterfully done and nothing short of mesmerizing. No joke, I was giggling like a 14-year-old girl in parts.

Rating By Book

A Darker Shade of Magic

The first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, is an excellent introduction to the series. It’s the shortest of the three but does a fantastic job of setting the stage for the rest of the series. This book can even be read as a standalone, and after finishing it, I couldn’t put the series down. However, it’s not my favorite of the three, so I gave it 4 stars.

A Gathering of Shadows

The second book, A Gathering of Shadows, is possibly my favorite in the series. Although its overarching plot is a bit slower-paced, it is incredibly enjoyable to read as Lila and Kell get into trouble during a magical competition in Red London. The romantic tension also begins to build in this book, and we get to know Kell’s brother Rhy better, and also mee the pirate Alucard. This book also culminates in one of the best cliffhangers I’ve ever read, so I gave it 5 stars.

A Conjuring of Light

Finally, we have A Conjuring of Light, the thrilling conclusion to the series. This book picks up right where the second one leaves off, with higher stakes and more character POVs. The story isn’t just about Kell and Lila anymore; we also follow Rhy, Alucard, King Maxim, and Queen Emira. In this final installment, we spend more time on the oceans, which adds an exciting fantasy sea adventure aspect.

The action and magical fights in this book are incredibly well-written, keeping me engaged throughout. In addition, the romance sprinkled throughout the book is just as enchanting as in the previous installment. The conclusion was satisfying and refreshing, as it wasn’t predictable. I was a bit sad when the series ended, but ultimately I gave this book 5 stars as well.


I absolutely loved Shades of Magic. It’s one of those books that I can see myself re-reading multiple times in the future. The unique premise and vivid world-building kept me hooked till the very end. As a fan of fantasy, I appreciate the effort the author put into creating this enchanting universe.

The characters are well-developed, and their growth throughout the book made me feel invested in their journeys. The writing style is engaging, which made it easy to immerse myself in the narrative.

I wholeheartedly recommend it to fellow book lovers and can’t wait for the next exciting adventure in the series.


What is the proper reading order for the Shades of Magic series?

The recommended reading order for the Shades of Magic series is as follows: A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light.

Can you expect a lot of romance in the Shades of Magic books?

While romance is present in the Shades of Magic books, it isn’t the primary focus of the series. The story places a greater emphasis on adventure, magic, and character development. However, the romantic elements that are present are masterfully done.

What kind of age group is the Shades of Magic series suitable for?

The Shades of Magic series is technically and adult series, but reads similar to YA books targeted to older readers. I would say it is best suited for readers aged 15 and older, as the books contain some mild violence, strong language, and subtle romantic scenes.

Is there a continuation or a Book 4 in the Shades of Magic series?

As of now, the Shades of Magic series is a complete trilogy. However, author V.E. Schwab has expanded the universe with a separate comic series called “The Steel Prince,” which is a prequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, focusing on the character Prince Maxim Maresh. More recently, The Fragile Threads of Power was released in September 2023, which is a new series that takes place in the same world and seven years after the conclusion of A Conjuring of Light.

Has A Darker Shade of Magic been adapted into a movie or television series?

Although there hasn’t been a movie or television adaptation yet, the rights to adapt A Darker Shade of Magic into a movie were acquired by Sony in 2017, and apparently, a movie script has been written. As of my knowledge at this time, there is no confirmed release date or casting details for the adaptation, but fans of the series can eagerly await any future announcements!

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