I am finding myself feeling rather lackluster about this book. I liked it, it was fine if predictable, but I think I was expecting a lot more and it’s just not there. This is going to be one of those reviews that sounds a lot more negative than I actually feel about the book. I did like it, I’m going to read the next books, but I can’t work up to the level of excitement that I feel has surrounded the book.
The premise of the book is that there exist four cities, all named London, in a kind of parallel universe situation. These different cities are all very different, though they share some bare bones similarities in the form of geography, some physical structures (mainly where the author needed them to share structures), and of course the name. The four cities don’t even share a language, though English is considered the language of royalty in all other Londons but ours, the ‘grey’ and magic-less one. No real explanation given for why except that it is the language the four cities use to communicate and I guess since no one in our world knows about the other cities, English is the default. Included in these differences is the amount of magic and how the worlds use magic. Our London has so little magic its non-existent. Red London is in perfect balance, White London is starving (despite being second closest to the magic source? It is a huge plot point that feels very much like a plot hole). Black London is one no one speaks about, it became overrun with magic a few centuries ago and was sealed off, and is the reason the four cities are so separate from each other. So you have these four cities, and the only person who can travel between them (except Black London of course, that is completely sealed off) is a super rare kind of magician who is identified by having on black eye. Why exactly the remaining three Londons have kept in touch is never really explained. Like I said, all doors were closed and sealed off; but apparently the monarchs keep in touch for some reason. Because PLOT I guess. Kell is one of these magicians, one of our protagonists, and a smuggler. Lila is a thief from our world, and our other protagonist. Kell smuggles the wrong item (and evil stone) from one place to another and Lila steals it from him. This, of course causes, the two of them to get tangled up together and oh goodness can they stop the evil? It is all so very rote and predictable.
I just was not wowed or surprised by this book. The writing is perfectly serviceable, and the plot is very standard. The world building is interesting, but not really as unique as I was expecting. It also doesn’t feel like a living breathing world. It’s there to service the plot. Also, this is supposedly set during the last years of Mad King George in our world and that…. really doesn’t come across at all. It’s extremely modern feeling and I’m not sure why that arbitrary time was chosen. The characters are your basic standard YA protagonists; despite this being Schwab’s adult outing. In fact, it read very much like a standard YA fantasy with just a little more sex and violence thrown in to adult things up, if that makes sense.
As I said, it is a fine book. I will be reading the others though I am not dying to read them right away. I am not rushing out to recommend this to everyone I meet though. This is a solid two and a half star read, I’m rounding up to three, but depending on how the wind blows I could just as easily round it down to two.