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Literature / Shades of Magic

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Shades of Magic is a fantasy trilogy by V. E. Schwab. The first book was released on February 24, 2015. A sequel trilogy to Shades of Magic called Threads of Power was announced, and its first installment will be published in 2023.

There is also a prequel comic series called Shades of Magic: The Steel Prince which follows Kell and Rhy's father Maxim as a young man. The first issue was published on October 10, 2018; a bind-up of all issues was released in February 2019.

The series itself focuses on the antics and life of Kell, who is part of a dwindling species called Antari, who have the power to travel between dimensions, each having a separate London. Red London, ruled by the Maresh dynasty and Kell's adopted parents, is full of magic. Grey London is our ordinary world. White London is so drained of magic its people are slowly starving to death. And Black London is forbidden, after a terrible magical cataclysm that killed everyone there. Kell secretly smuggles objects between the worlds, thinking it a harmless sideline to his real business of maintaining political ties between the different royal families. But then someone pushes a mysterious black stone on him...


  1. A Darker Shade of Magic (2015)
  2. A Gathering of Shadows (2016)
  3. A Conjuring of Light (2017)


  • Adopted into Royalty: Kell was adopted by the Mareshs, the royal family of Red London, because they wanted to turn his Antari powers to their service.
  • Amplifier Artifact: A magical stone imbued with dark magic is a Plot Device.
  • Another Dimension: The premise of the series is the fact there are 4 Londons Kell travels between.
  • Bad Powers, Bad People: Athos Dane is The Dreaded in part for his prodigious talent for magical mind control and in part for his sadistic love of destroying people with it.
  • Black Eyes of Evil: A mark of being Antari is having one completely black eye. At the fall of Black London, this was interpreted as being a sign of their corruption, leading to mass killings. And Holland has them, when Osaron takes him over completely.
  • Blood Magic: Antari magic is more powerful than other types of magic, but requires the caster to spill some of their own blood.
  • Book Ends: Both the first chapter of A Darker Shade of Magic and the last chapter of A Conjuring of Light start with Kell's coat.
  • Burning the Ships: The Sea Serpent raiders do this immediately before they attack a ship, signifying that they don't need it since they'll soon have yours.
  • Crapsack World: White London has been doing very badly ever since Black London went under and Red London slammed their interdimensional doors shut. There's so little magic that it's always winter and people are starving, there are human sacrifices as a matter of course, and the rulers are nearly always violent sociopaths.
  • Demonic Possession: Vitari, a being of pure magic which is capable of possessing multiple bodies.
  • Dimensional Traveler: The Antari have the unique ability to travel between worlds with a bit of blood, an incantation, and an item from the destination point.
  • Eerie Pale-Skinned Brunette: Holland.
  • Elemental Powers: A good chunk of magic is fire, earth, water and air manipulation. Most people of Red London master one or two elements, with triads being remarkably rare. Antari wield all and more.
  • Element No. 5: Bone. Mages with a talent for it are strongly encouraged to unlearn it in Red London, since it lets them make People Puppets out of humans, a cardinal offense in that world.
  • Ethical Slut: Rhy is well-known for having a steady and fast-moving stream of male and female companions, and is a Nice Guy who treats everyone in his life as well as he can.
  • Eye Scream: It's not until late in the first book that we find out that Lila has a glass eye, apparently because she lost one as a child. Since she turns out to be an Antari, it's likely that when her eye turned black, her parents didn't know what it meant and paid a surgeon to remove it.
  • False Flag Operation: In the third book, the Veskans try to have Kell killed and try to pin the blame on Faro, by paying the assassins in Faroan face-gems. However, Lila quickly figures out it's a frame job, because the "evidence" is something the framed party would never have used as payment.
  • First-Episode Twist: It's hard to talk about the second and third books without mentioning that Lila has magic.
  • Fold the Page, Fold the Space: Kell uses the analogy of pages in a book to explain to Lila how one has to travel through the Londons in sequence:
    Kell shook his head. "I can't make a door from here to there."
    Lila let out an exasperated noise. "But you just said—"
    "The other Londons sit between," he explained. A small book rested on the table by the bed. He brushed his thumb over the pages. "The worlds are like pieces of paper," he said, "stacked one on top of the other." That's how he'd always thought of it. "You have to move in order." He pinched a few pages between his fingers. "Grey London," he said, letting one fall back to the stack. "Red London." He let go of a second. "White London." The third page fluttered as it fell. "And Black." he let the rest of the pages fall back to the book.
  • Good Parents: The king and queen in Red London love their son very much, and are affectionate towards Kell. This starts to wane in the second book, where Emira drops all pretenses that she sees Kell as equal to Rhy and Maxim starts pushing Kell too hard.
  • Healing Factor: Antari heal from injuries more quickly than other people.
  • Healing Magic Is the Hardest:
    • Normal healing magic requires a command of all five elements in precise balance, a rare gift that even impresses Kell when he learns one of his guards has it. In Red London, healers are believed to have been chosen by Magic itself for the priesthood.
    • The Antari healing spell drains a disproportionate amount of magic to use, so they tend to avoid it except in life-or-death situations.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard:
    • How Kell defeats Athos, despite Athos's greater power. He goads Athos into using his half of the black stone to summon a monster, having previously learned that creations of the stone always turn on their masters.
    • The Mareshs are a milder, more heroic example. They wanted Kell to love Rhy like a brother, so he'd always protect him; unfortunately, they failed to realize that Rhy would do the same for Kell.
  • Inn Between the Worlds: The Stone's Throw/Ruby Fields is a "fixed point" between dimensions.
  • Klingon Promotion: You become the ruler of White London by murdering the previous ruler.
  • Leonine Contract: This is how Holland ends up possessed by Osaron. He takes Osaron into his body and save White London, or die in Black London of the stab wound Kell gave him.
  • Magic A Is Magic A: Or B, or C, or D. There are 4 types of magic in the books: Antari magic, that allows for inter-London travel, Red London magic, the more traditional/less restricted sorcery of White London, and the extremely powerful, extremely dangerous, ambiguously sentient magic of Black London.
  • Mark of the Supernatural: All Antari have one pitch-black eye.
  • Motivational Kiss: Lila gives Kell a kiss for luck when they first cross worlds, and he echoes it at the end of the book.
  • No Such Thing as Wizard Jesus: Red Londoners worship magic itself, but as an intrinsic part of humanity and nature rather than a divine being, and Kell is outright scornful of Grey London's belief in God. They also rebuff Osaron, a being of magic itself, when it calls itself a god.
  • Out-of-Character Alert: When a villain tries disguising herself as Lila, Kell immediately stabs her. He tells Lila he knew it wasn't her because the villain used the word "please".
  • Possession Burnout: Bodies possessed by Vitari gradually char and eventually crumble to ash. Osaron can do this on purpose, but doesn't have to.
  • Redemption Equals Death: In the last book, Holland gives up his magic to imprison Osaron. It doesn't kill him immediately, but he's very clearly not well and dies as soon as he gets home.
  • Red Oni, Blue Oni: Rhy is cheerful, emotional, colourful, and magically weak. Kell is dour and pale, prefers black clothes, and has tremendous magical power. Each is absolutely devoted to the other.
  • Sealed Evil in Another World: The first book revolves around an Artifact of Doom from Black London, an alternate Earth that fell in a magical apocalypse. Kell disposes of it by sticking it on a dying Holland and sending them both on a one-way trip back to Black London.
  • Shared Life Energy: Kell's desperate attempt to revive his brother Rhy triggers a nearby Amplifier Artifact, permanently binding Rhy's life force to Kell's. It doesn't affect Kell's life, but Rhy can only live while Kell lives, and can't die until Kell does.
  • Sweet Polly Oliver: Across the series, Lila consistently dresses in male attire with the intention of passing on as a man. Even being referred to as a Crossdresser by other characters. Lila's alias as The Shadow Thief and constant effort to present as a man are due to her and society's views on the fragility and weakness of most women and her trying to subvert them (although also having an influence by the character's canonical queerness). And, during the second book, Lila steals the identity of Stasion Elsor to fortake his place in the Essen Tasch, being able to fool most.
  • Switching P.O.V.: The book switches between many characters perspectives.
  • Tap on the Head: Holland knocks Lila out like this so he can use her as a hostage to make Kell give him Vitari, and all it gives her is a goose egg. Justified, however, as she is an Antari, and they are both more durable and faster-healing than most people.
  • Thrill Seeker: Delilah believes that getting close to death is the only way to feel truly alive, hence her penchant for Indy Ploys and hugely audacious schemes.
  • Tournament Arc: The bulk of the plot of A Gathering of Shadows centers on the Essen Tach (Element Games) a gladiatorial-style tournament for magicians, meant to entertain and keep healthy relations among the participating countries. Participants are required to wear masks and armor that breaks off in 28 pieces - the participant that loses 10 pieces of armor loses the round. In the finale, the armor is made up of 38 pieces, and all pieces must be broken off by the winner. Of the main characters, Kell, Lila and Alucard participate. Kell and Lila do face each other, Kell throws the fight in order to avoid being unmasked. Lila loses at a later round, however. Alucard makes it to the final round and wins.
  • Two-Part Trilogy: The first book can stand on its own, but the second and third book are directly connected - the third starting right where the second one ended.
  • The Unreveal: Invoked by Kell when he has an opportunity to learn about his birth family. He decides his new family is the only one that matters and destroys the spell that would have restored his memories of his early childhood.
    • That said, his real name is revealed in a short story Schwab included in the collector's edition of the third novel. It's Kastion Laros.
  • Unskilled, but Strong: Lila is very naturally talented and strong with magic, but has no formal training and doesn't know when to stop pushing. So though she advances quite far, she still loses the Essen Tach.
  • The Virus: Vitari spreads itself this way, either as an STD or through wounds.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Holland. All he wants is to save his world. Unfortunately for our heroes, he'll do literally anything to achieve that goal, including torture, murder, and deals with demons who want to be gods.
  • The X of Y: The titles of the series itself, and all three books. (Shades of Magic, A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows, A Conjuring of Light.)

Alternative Title(s): A Darker Shade Of Magic, A Gathering Of Shadows, A Conjuring Of Light