I’ll be honest: I spent a considerable amount of time trying to decide whether I wanted to give this book 3 stars or 5 stars, so finally I settled on 4 because neither 3 nor 5 seemed more right than the other. Upon picking up this book, I was instantly swept in and thought for certain it would be one of my favourite reads in a long while. The premise is a little odd, but the world Schwab has established for us is so vivid and unique. I plowed through the first half of this book in a couple evenings.
Kell—I love him!! What a sweetie our little black eyed prince is. With every character that was introduced I grew more and more excited because not only did Schwab create an incredible world (or worlds) and set us on a refreshingly unique adventure within it, she populated it with awesome, larger than life characters. Literally the only problem I have with the actual plot is that it’s got a bit of a hidden chosen one/ secret birthmark of destiny thing going on, but because it’s a fantasy novel I will begrudgingly allow it this classic trope. The villains are terrifying, the everyday people Kell passes on the street are fleshed out and seem super real. I picked this book up because one of its sequels made it to the final round of goodreads’ best fantasy of the year, even though I usually stick to reading books that are typically known as LGBT book, but THEN I was SO EXCITED to realize there was LGBT rep in it as well (even though it’s brief, it IS there and I ATE THOSE CRUMBS WITH RELISH). This book is also technically part of a series, but the ending is satisfying enough that it could be standalone, which garners big points as far as I’m concerned. I mean this book had me… you know, at hello, or whatever, or like definitely by chapter 2! And then……. And then.
It really frustrates me that I have to leave a review on this book that isn’t like… fully glowing and perfect. But there is one element in this book that I cannot forgive.
The thing is, I have grown weary, in my old age (25), of female characters whose entire worth is directly proportionate to how far the author distances them from anything effeminate. And that is our main female character, Lila Bard, in a nutshell. The worst part is that Schwab is a really good writer and I WANT to like Lila and sometimes I even do, a little. Yet I cannot help but feel when I’m reading this book that her entire purpose, as a character, as a literary device, is to be… (shudder)… not like other girls. It’s not that I think female characters should ascribe to tired stereotypes of women that render us stupid, coquettish, or vain or whatever, but the feisty tomboy is just the flipside of the same coin, another utterly spent trope that holds no interest for me anymore.
Look: this character fuckin sucks man. She doesn’t feel real the way other characters in the book do, because she’s SO cliched in her creation, it’s like she walked off the pages of a 15 year old’s self insert Ginny/Draco fanfic. I get it. She’s tough. Tougher than every boy. Morally gray but with a soft spot deep inside. Half the time I wish I could skip all the scenes that she’s in if she wasn’t in like, all the scenes, because she is a central character. Lila also has the whole Sadness Olympics thing going on, which I cannot fucking stand, like sure she doesn’t want your pity but at the same time if you weren’t HOMELESS like her then I guess you don’t have the right to feel sad about anything EVER.
Ultimately, I still very highly recommend picking this book up if you like fantasy at all, but I cannot give it that perfect score, and so, I very sadly give this book 4 stars. I wanted to do better by you, Darker Shade of Magic. If only your author had done better by me, and women everywhere who exist somewhere in that unknowable, strange place outside the girly girl side of the coin and the one of the guys side.