In the world of V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic trilogy, in which this is the first book, there are parallel worlds. There used to be gateways between them, but now only the magical Antari (identified by having one normal and one fully black eyeball) are able to travel through to the various worlds, using their blood and magical ability. Young Kell, fostered with the royal family in Red London is one of these Antari. In each of the four worlds, there is a London, the geographical location of which overlaps. There is Grey London, which is the England of George III, where pretty much all the magic is completely gone and people live more mundane lives. There is Red London, where Kell is from, where magic flows freely. There is white London, where magic is greedily sought after or controlled with an iron hand by whomever currently rules there. And there used to be Black London, but something went badly wrong there, and it’s now been completely sealed off to protect the other three worlds.
Kell travels back and forth between worlds as an ambassador. He also likes smuggling small items from one world to the other, selling them to those interested, not so much because he needs the money, but because he loves the thrill. This hobby of his eventually gets him into a lot of trouble, when someone asks him to take an item from White London to Red London, and it turns out he’s being set up and suddenly rather a lot of people want to kill him. He flees to Grey London in the hopes of escaping his pursuers. This is where he meets Lila.
Delilah “Lila” Bard is a pickpocket who’s been dressing up as a man and made quite a name for herself as a masked thief. She dreams of becoming the captain of her own pirate vessel and escaping her dreary life in London, when a mysterious stranger falls into her path, clearly near death. She steals from him, only to discover to her shock that he is able to materialise in her rooms, having used magic to track her. She ends up saving his life, but demands that he take her along to Red London so she can experience a proper adventure (also, she’s pretty sure he’s not going to survive his mission without her).
Although it should be impossible for anyone apart from the Antari to cross between worlds, the magical artifact Kell has found himself in possession of seems to help, and soon Kell and Lila are plotting to outsmart their pursuers, fighting to stay alive and racing against time to save all three worlds from magical destruction.
Full review here.