“Kell is one of the last Antari—magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel Londons; Red, Grey, White, and, once upon a time, Black.
Kell was raised in Arnes—Red London—and officially serves the Maresh Empire as an ambassador, traveling between the frequent bloody regime changes in White London and the court of George III in the dullest of Londons, the one without any magic left to see.
Unofficially, Kell is a smuggler, servicing people willing to pay for even the smallest glimpses of a world they’ll never see. It’s a defiant hobby with dangerous consequences, which Kell is now seeing firsthand.
After an exchange goes awry, Kell escapes to Grey London and runs into Delilah Bard, a cut-purse with lofty aspirations. She first robs him, then saves him from a deadly enemy, and finally forces Kell to spirit her to another world for a proper adventure.
Now perilous magic is afoot, and treachery lurks at every turn. To save all of the worlds, they’ll first need to stay alive.” (via Goodreads)
I haven’t had the chance to read as much of V.E. Schwab’s work as I’d like (so far only this, Vicious, This Savage Song, and Our Dark Duet). Given how phenomenal A Darker Shade of Magic was, if nothing else I need to move the rest of the Shades of Magic series higher up in my To Read queue. Although I finished it a little over a month ago, I still find my mind wandering over to Lila and Kell.
Kell lives in Red London, a city bursting with magic. Years ago, there were doors between all four Londons, but when Black London imploded with too much dangerous magic, Red London shut its doors. Now, magic is nearly depleted in White London and Grey London (our world) it’s little more than an old story. As one of only two Antaris left, the other being a cruel White Londoner named Holland, Kell has the ability to jump between the worlds. Which is how he meets Lila, a young pickpocket who steals a powerful artifact that puts her in the crosshairs between the Antaris.
The magical system here is fascinating even though it’s not especially unique. Schwab added her own twists to a standard parallel worlds trope. If you’re a Diana Wynne Jones fan, you’ll recognize bits of Howl’s Moving Castle and the Chrestomanci series. Where the book really shines is in how the characters interact with, resist, and call out those tropes.
There’s a saying about comic book letterers that the work of the best ones is invisible because the whole point is that the lettering should drag them into the story instead of yanking them out. The same could be said of Schwab and her writing. The massive amount of work she puts into her stories vanishes under the beauty of the final product. A reader could be forgiven for thinking Schwab makes writing look effortless because of the richness of her worlds. Her characters are nuanced and evocative. No matter how minor, each is complex and intricate in their own way. She wastes nothing. No background character, line of dialogue, bit of action, or scene setting is superfluous. She’s that good, y’all.
Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.
So when Kell passed through the palace wall and into the anteroom, he took a moment to steady himself—it took its toll, moving between worlds—and then shrugged out of his red, high-collared coat and turned it inside out from right to left so that it became a simple black jacket. Well, a simple black jacket elegantly lined with silver thread and adorned with two gleaming columns of silver buttons. Just because he adopted a more modest palette when he was abroad (wishing neither to offend the local royalty nor to draw attention) didn’t mean he had to sacrifice style.
Oh, kings, thought Kell as he fastened the buttons on the coat. He was starting to think like Rhy.
Do the world a favor and buy this book from your local indie bookstore or get it from your public library.