Kell is one of the last Travelers—rare magicians who choose a parallel universe to visit.
Grey London is dirty, boring, lacks magic, ruled by mad King George. Red London is where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire. White London is ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne. People fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones. Once there was Black London - but no one speaks of that now.
Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between royals of each London. Unofficially, Kell smuggles for those willing to pay for even a glimpse of a world they’ll never see. This dangerous hobby 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 another world for her 'proper adventure'.
But perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, Kell and Lila will first need to stay alive — trickier than they hoped.
I am a huge fan of Ms. Schwab, and thoroughly enjoyed her book Vicious. But this was more fantasy, less sci-fi and overall a let down from a great author. The storyline itself is confusing, I got through the first few chapters before I realized I needed to backtrack. The world building wasn't engaging, and I finished the book knowing it could have been alot better than it was. The emotional engagement wasn't there for me,which surprised me because it was what I enjoyed most from this author in her past work.
"Magic was truly a beautiful disease. But only when the hosts were strong enough."
It took me so long to read because I was sifting through wasted potential. The relationship between the two main characters Kell and Lila, was relate-able and likeable, but never fleshed out. Considering the partnership they decide to partake on together, their direct interaction with each other, rather than others, was limited. I still don't completely understand how Red, White, Grey and Black London work, and there's no real way to get around that. Worldbuilding 101, don't make your descriptions unclear and don't rush through things which would provide more clarity. You shouldn't have to wait for a follow up to the book your reading to understand how it works.
The quote above is one of two, that I enjoyed and picked out while reading. This means most of the book is spent propelling the plot, with little explanation in between. But I finished it and at times felt enthralled and engaged with the action described. The pacing was good, and the Magic described was interesting. Overall the book was likeable, but not really compelling, or above average for readers. This is a planned trilogy but I won't be reading any follow up books. If your a fan of fantasy, young adult and V. E. Schwab, check it out. But if your not really into it about a third of the way through, don't expect it to improve much beyond that.