Rating: 3.5-4 Stars (because I can’t make up my bloody mind)
Synopsis via Goodreads:
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 don’t know how to feel about this.
On one hand, this had everything I loved. Magic; slightly cocky magical hero; cutthroat, sassy heroine; doors to other worlds, other Londons; etc, etc, . . .
For the first few chapters, I was so positive this was going to be a five star book for me. I was almost jumping out of my seat in excitement. Partly this was due to me not realizing that Kell was actually male, and it’s been some time since I’ve read from the POV of a man and not a female. And at first, this made me nervous because I’ve not always had the best luck in liking books from a male POV. I also had already hyped myself up for some awesome magical world traveler girl, so it was a bit of a shock.
But then I found I loved Kell only after the first few chapters. I was seriously thinking that he was going to make it onto my list of favorite heroes of all time. He was smart and a little cocky (but not too much) and was a wordsmith and had a streak of self-destruction in him, where he did little illegal dealings in the different Londons.
Kell is one of two of a kind. He is from Red London, where magic is stable and used regularly by its inhabitants. It is a give and take, and while things are not perfect, they are good and just with kind royalty that treats him like family. Out of all the Londons, it is the favored.
Then there is Grey London, where magic is all but forgotten and the only people who remember it’s existence are the royalty of that land and the odd crazy believer. And then there is White London, the very opposite of Grey London in that the people there would literally kill for a taste of magic. Magic there is what defines royalty. The White London throne is held for only a short while by whoever managed to kill the last ruler, and it is cold and desolate. This also happens to be where the only other of Kell’s kind is from.
The rulers of White London are the Dane twins. Bloodthirsty, vicious twins who treat the only other of Kell’s kind, Holland, like a slave. They won their right to rule through evil magic and killing it’s previous ruler. They have bound Holland to them after fighting and defeating him for the crown of White London. They have no compassion, no empathy, and they are as clever as clever gets.
“The bodies in my floor all trusted someone. Now I walk on them to tea.”
Lastly, there is Black London. But not even Kell can travel there. Black London is the reason all the Londons are now separated, only Travelers like Kell being able to step through the doors to any of the other Londons. Before, when Black London and every other London was connected, everyone could freely travel across to different Londons. But then Black London became greedy and tried to be the master of magic, and the magic there devoured everything.
To save the other three Londons, Black London was blocked off, and no one besides the Travelers could freely cross into the different Londons. The only reason even they can do that is because they are born with magic in their blood. It comes naturally to them, and their one black eye is the mark of that.
But Travelers are a dying breed, and now Kell is one of two left in all of the Londons. He has been raised by the royal family in Red London, where the crowned prince is his best friend. He is loved and given everything he could desire. The royal family only asks that he delivers letters to the other rulers of Grey and White London. But Kell still isn’t happy.
It is illegal to give or take things belonging to the other Londons. The letters are the only things that should ever stay in any of the Londons that were not there before. But Kell still does it. Innocent things, really. Things like magical toys given to a magical collector in Grey London, where they are harmless and merely trinkets in the hands of those without magic, and no one had any magic left in Grey London, fewer even remember that there was ever such a thing as magic to begin with.
“I wish you wouldn’t indulge him,” said the Prince Regent, whose name was also George (Kell found the Grey London habit of sons taking father’s name both redundant and confusing) with a dismissive wave of his hand. “It gets his spirits up.”
“Is that a bad thing?” asked Kell.
“For him, yes. He’ll be in a frenzy later. Dancing on the tables talking of magic and other Londons. What trick did you do for him this time? Convince him he could fly?”
Kell had only made that mistake once.
Kell is at the stage where he is given everything he could desire, is basically royalty himself, is even called a prince by the people of Red London, and is truly loved by the king and queen and the prince, and he understands all that, but he can’t help thinking about how he only loved because of his magic, his gift. He was dropped off at the castle when he was a baby, his parents giving him up when they discovered what he was, and no one will tell him of his birth family or if he even has one. In a way, he belongs to the royal family.
Then there’s Delilah Bard, a cutthroat from Grey London, and all she wants in life is to be a pirate. She is ruthless. This is no blushing, wooing girl. Sure, she’ll help you up when you trip in the street . . . but she’ll also pick your pockets while she’s at it and think nothing of it. And she won’t ever get caught. She is out to only help herself, and she is no Robin Hood. She will steal and kill anyone to stay alive.
“Bad magic, Kell had called it.
No, thought Lila now. Clever magic.
And clever was more dangerous than bad any day of the week.”
And I guess it’s around here that I started to have a problem with this book. I got so irritated with both Lila and Kell. For being selfish and a little annoying and sometimes stupid. I wouldn’t call them stupid or annoying or even selfish characters, but those traits rose up at points. But I also like those traits in characters I read, just because everyone has those traits in them somewhere.
“Some people steal to stay alive, and some steal to feel alive. Simple as that.”
I found myself really loving Kell. Because even though he’s selfish and spoiled and he has never wanted for any kind of comfort, he still wants more. And I can’t hold that against him. Sure, he has food and riches and clothes and, to a point, the love of royalty, but he still wants more. He wants a challenge and love that wasn’t given to him because he has a black eye and magic in his blood. He is thankful, but he wants more. I love that.
“You have a house if not a home,” she spat. “You have people who care for you if not about you. You may not have everything you want, but I’d wager you have everything you could ever need, and you have the audacity to claim it all forfeit because it is not love.”
“Love doesn’t keep us from freezing to death, Kell,” she continued, “or starving, or being knifed for the coins in our pocket. Love doesn’t buy us anything, so be glad for what you have and who you have because you may want for things but you need nothing.”
I loved everything about this idea. Multiple Londons, but nothing about it was confusing. There will not be two of the same person in two different Londons, because in a way, the different Londons are like two entirely different pieces of land, and no one single person can exist in two places at once. And yet, the Londons are in different worlds.
“I apologize for anything I might have done. I was not myself.”
“I apologize for shooting you in the leg,” said Lila. “I was entirely myself.”