Rating: 4 Stars
Kell is an Antari, a Mage with the ability to pass between worlds. He’s in the service of the Red Throne, monarchs of a world thriving with magic. But he also has a secret: Despite being forbidden, he smuggles items from one world into the other.
When one of the items he carries turns out to be incredibly dangerous, he has to run. And he runs straight into Lila Bard: pickpocket, wanted bandit and would-be pirate.
Together, they have to return the stone where it came from and save the worlds from danger.
Alright I loved this book. The worldbuilding is awesome and the characters are amazing. I have a fondness for books about parallel worlds and for kick-ass women. This book delivers both.
Let’s start with the worldbuilding, shall we? There are four worlds: Grey London, which is basically our world during Regency and has very little magic. Red London, teeming with magic, a world of beauty and flowers, which is Kell’s world. White London, a world clinging to the last remnants of magic, where power is everything and the throne is held by the most powerful and most ruthless. And then there’s Black London. The lost world that was consumed by magic.
They were each different, in a interesting way. V.E. Schwab perfectly captures the coldness and danger of white London and the lushness of Red. We don’t get too much detail on the worlds, but enough for the story to make sense and whet my appetite for more.
Anyone – even a highborn – could see the danger here. Could smell it. Death and as and winter air.
Then there’s the characters. There’s Kell, the Traveller between the worlds. He’s the dark, broody kind. He can’t remember his childhood before he became the property of the royal family. He feels like property, instead of a family member. He defies them by smuggling. He loves the Prince Rhy like a brother (though sometimes it feels the feelings are more than brotherly to be honest). Despite his broodiness, he’s fun to read.
He was clearly taking his time in an effort to spite Kell, but Kell didn’t mind. He occupied himself by drumming his fingers on the edge of the filded table. Each time he made it from pinky to forefinger, one of the room’s many candles went out.
“Mut be a draft,” he said absently while the Prince Regent’s grip tightened on his quill. By the time he finished the note, he’d broken two and was in a bad mood, while Kell found his own disposition greatly improved.
The most amazing character of them all is Lila Bard. Lila dresses like a man and robs people. I have a fondness for a girl-hiding-as-boy story. But Lila is so much more. She thirsts for adventure and I loved that about her. She doesn’t moan about oh-no-magic-and-I-have-to-save-the-worlds. Instead, she’s more like: Hell yeah magic and other worlds and adventure!
“Death comes for everyone,” she said simply. “I’m not afraid of dying. But I am afraid of dying here.” She swept her hand over the room, the tavern, the city. “I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Plus, she made sense. She grew up on the streets. She has killed before and has no qualms about killing again if necessary.
I loved the relationship between Kell and Lila. I loved their banter. They had a beautiful, odd, amazing friendship.
I wish the relationship between Rhy and Kell would have gotten more booktime. We are told how much Rhy means to Kell and about their friendship, but the book starts with their relationship kind of strained and later there’s just not much time spend on the two.
What I didn’t like was the ending. It’s difficult to talk about it without revealing too much but it was kind of anti-climactic.
A brilliant start to what promises to be an interesting series. Self-contained enough to be thorougly enjoyable and with enough open questions left to make me wish for the next one.