4 out of 5 Dark Stars
I have fallen in love with V. E. Schwab, which made me really hyped to read this. I enjoyed it and feel it deserves 4 stars. I think it was a rollicking fantasy action adventure and unique – but I also feel it lacked the depth I got from This Savage Song, The Archived Duology and Vicious. However, I don’t usually compare an artist’s entire work when rating – I judge each book against others of its kind, instead, and this still rates pretty high.
Kell is an Antari, a special sort of magician, able to step between worlds. The four Londons, all in different worlds, all in different countries, used to be connected by doors. However, when Black London became corrupted, destroyed by an all consuming lust for magic, they shut the doors. As a result, Grey London faded and magic is mostly dead there. White London is a brutal place of blood and ash, that sounds to me like it’s being consumed by the same thing that destroyed Black London. Kell’s job is to travel between the worlds, taking correspondence between the monarchies. But, sometimes, he does a little smuggling on the side.
Since the whole Black-London-going-to-hell thing, items are supposed to stay in their own world, but Kell does a little business taking things from the different Londons to collectors or enthusiasts. He does this…. not because he’s bored, or needs the money, or the things he gathers. He does it to prove his independence, I think. Kell isn’t exactly a free agent. The Maresh, or the monarchs of the empire, treat him like a son. Their biological son, Rhys, is his best friend and they love each other like brothers. But Kell has no memory of his life before he came to live with the royal family. He’s a possession. Though magic is ripe in this world, the Antari are dying out. Right now, there are only two, and so they are very valuable.
The other guy is terrifying. Holland works for the Dane Twins, the royals ruling White London, where everything is pale and colorless and the land is ruthless. That place is just freaking scary, and Holland was chilling. I’d close and lock the damn door to that place and let them tear their faces off until they all die. People actually drink the blood of people who can do magic to increase their powers. Not someplace you wanna go unless you have absolutely no choice…. or a very large knife in your pocket.
And speaking of knives… Kell runs into a little trouble when he transports a mysterious stone and runs into a more mysterious girl. Lila dreams of traveling beyond the London she knows. She’s from Grey London, so magic isn’t part of her world. Very few even know about it. What she has is a map that shows her a whole lot of nothing, a love of weapons, and big dreams. A thief by trade, she dreams of owning a pirate ship and making her own way on the high seas. I really liked her…. but I don’t know why she had to be in the story. There was a lot of extraneous stuff in this. Don’t get me wrong, I like her a lot, but she was nothing new. She’s a sidekick; the same female sidekick with a snarky comeback and a hat worn at a jaunty angle as you’d find, only they are usually male. She’s brave and cool, but honestly, you could lift her out of this one and put her in any other YA. I have some thoughts about what we will find out about her in the future. I think I know where her story is going. I guessed a few things about her before the story revealed it. I felt like that about a lot of things – like this is just a set up for another book. I thought we had left that behind – that we know that each book needs to stand on its own and be a good book.
There was a single thread of the story left unfinished. A man in Grey London found himself a bit of magic but his storyline didn’t finish, so I think that’s what we’re going to see in the next installment.
As for the diversity quotient – the ruling leaders of Red London are people of color. Prince Rhys is clearly gay, or possibly bi, but his liking of men is obvious. This is better than Schwab’s done in previous books as far as representation goes – and I’ve heard that Kell is asexual, but that wasn’t made clear in this book, and I could be wrong. (edit: he’s not)
I’m definitely continuing. I loved the world, it’s well written, it’s got a great pace – I find all these things to be consistent in V.E. Schwab’s writing… but I’d like some more substance.