This book opens with Kell. A mystical Antari with unfathomable magical powers and the ability to travel between worlds. Despite all of his power, he is owned by the King and Queen of Red London. His memories of an earlier life have been erased and he acts as a royal messenger between three parallel Londons. One London has no magic, one has medium magic and one has had too much magic. It’s a bit like the Goldilocks porridge situation, but more exciting.
The chapters flip between the two main characters Kell and Lila until eventually they’re brought together by Lila’s compulsive pocket-picking habits. Lila is a wanted criminal. She’s a quick witted, foul mouthed thief with ambitions of becoming a pirate. Despite her escapades she feels trapped, living above a pub in none magic London, looking for an opportunity to really live. The story feels quite light, it’s easy to read, but there are enough dark and violent moments to propel the narrative forward. The stakes are high for these character, if they fail the consequences are death and potentially the ruin of civilisation. This can be felt throughout the book and although I was quite confident neither Lila or Kell would die I still believed they could. Magic is key, but it doesn’t offer protection against all of the obstacles Kell and Lila have to overcome. I’ve read a few books where the protagonists never suffer more than a light graze and as a result the author lays waste to any narrative tension. This book avoids that and keeps a gripping pace throughout.
As if traversing parallel cities with magical talismans wasn’t enough, Lila and Kell also need to do it whilst avoiding Holland. Holland is a fantastic apparition. His characterisation precisely demonstrates the sliding scale between good and evil. He is an Antari who is enslaved by Astrid and Athos, twins who reign over White London. We learn early on that their diplomacy style leaves much to be desired. As the story moves forward we get to the bottom of how Holland came to be there. This acts as a warning of how truly unnerving the twins are and how far they will go in the pursuit of power.
The interactions between these complex characters are the driver of this story. I might not come back to a story about travelling magicians, but I’ll always come back to Lila and Kell. Their moments of bickering frustration, life musing and personal jokes draw you into their relationship and entice you into caring. There’s also Rhys, Kell’s prince ‘brother’ who is wholly created to be loved and who brings touching comic relief in contrast to Kell’s seriousness.
Overall I love this novel. I’ve gifted it to everyone. It’s a gateway to fantasy for those who don’t read it and a readable relief for those who do. It’s got enough grit to hold it’s own and enough sentiment to make you hold your heart. I’ve just finished the second book a Gathering of Shadows which didn’t disappoint either and has set the scene perfectly for A Conjuring of Light, the final instalment which is due for release in February 2017. Is it bad that it’s definitely going to be my Valentine?
Have you read this or any of V.E Schwab’s other novels? I have Vicious on my TBR, what did you think? Are you a fan and if not, what’s missing?
As always I’d love to hear your opinions in the comments.