By Heather A.
4 out of 5 stars ★★★★☆
Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.
Officially, Kell is the personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see, and it is this dangerous hobby that sets him up for accidental treason. Fleeing into Grey London, Kell runs afoul of Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She robs him, saves him from a dangerous enemy, then forces him to take her with him for her proper adventure.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save both his London and the others, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — a feat trickier than they hoped.
The world created by V.E. Schwab is built on color, or lack thereof. Red is the richest of magic, black the darkest and most taboo, grey has no magic, and white is full of severe magic–I say severe because of the people who rule and how they got to power. When Kell travels between the world, one of only two people who can do so, he switches his coat around to match the world around him. It isn’t until he meets Lila Bard, someone from grey London who may or may not possess magical powers, does his world become turned upside down.
Kell may be the main character, but Lila steals the show. She’s tough and doesn’t take shit from anyone (good or bad). When her skeezy landlord demands payment for rent in the form of her body, instead of coins, she slices his stomach open instead of giving herself to him. She learns quickly the rules for traveling between worlds and how Kell operates (btw, she’s not supposed to travel between the worlds, adding to her mystery). She also dreams of being a pirate, which is badass.
Kell is loyal (mostly) to the crown of Red London and sees Prince Rhy like his own brother. When their lives are threatened Kell binds himself to Rhy, which I think will come into play later in the series. For the time being it allows him to save Rhy without having to explain much. I could definitely see why a lot of people ship Kell/Rhy, they have great banter and a solid relationship.
In each world the problems escalate. There’s always the threat of others trying to gain power of an impossible black stone, from Black London, that should have been destroyed. The power from the stone is what motivates Kell and Lila to go through each London together. The magic and world building during each travel between worlds is superbly done. I loved how they navigated the space with the powers they had. Lila, as I mentioned before doesn’t have any apparent powers, but she’s smart and manages to thwart many along the way.
The ending was satisfying, I had a feeling it would end mostly on a high note, but Schwab left enough of a nugget of something unresolved that is developed in book two, A Gathering of Shadows. I’m very interested in reading more about this world. I was completely enamored by it and the people in the story.