Kell is a traveler, one of only two people in existence who can move between Londons. There’s Grey London, where King George III rules a world where magic is only a legend. There’s Red London, where magic flourishes and the Thames glows with power. There is White London, where rather than be forced into subservience, natural magic has fled, leaving those with amulets and runes the only wielders of the power left. Then there’s Black London, so consumed by its own magic that it was cut off from the others. Abandoned. Forbidden. Hidden. Until now.
Kell is a collector despite the fact that moving anything except royal mail across Londons is illegal. When he is given a token from a stranger to return to Black London, he knows he’s in trouble.
Delilah Bard is a thief who dreams of adventure. When she stumbles upon Kell and the Black London token, she only sees opportunity.
Holland is the White Traveler, but despite this rare freedom, he has become hard and unbearable. Without the Black London token he is hopeless, but getting it could put him in even more danger.
V. E. Schwab’s first novel in the Shades of Magic series sweeps readers up in Kell, Delilah, and Holland’s adventures through multiple worlds where magic is alternatingly unknown, praised, and desperately sought after. Told from multiple points of view, the reader learns about the many Londons and the worlds they inhabit slowly, despite the characters’ knowledge of them. This is one adventure that is both humorous and dark while being twisting and intricate. The first few chapters moved a little slowly for me, in part because it jumps in head first, and adjusting to the multiple Londons takes some time. Once I was used to the world, I couldn’t get enough. The suspense of what would happen to my favorite characters was akin to Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (See my review of that here), in that you never knew who was safe, and the dark magic would like to have a mind of its own, thank you very much.
I picked this novel up after seeing it everywhere from BookTube to my Amazon and Barnes & Noble recommendations list, and I am not sorry I did. At 390 pages in paperback, this book is a pretty good size. The organization of the work is amazing. Each section has a name, and the chapters are numbered but not named within each section. The jury is still out on whether this made reading it feel faster or slower. I’m the kind of person who prefers world-building to be upfront rather than scattered in the wind, so this was overall a slow read because I had trouble picturing things where they should be, and also keeping all the Londons straight in my head. But still, the plot was good and the characters mysterious and intriguing, so it’s a win on my list.
I enjoyed the lack of romance. There were hints, here and there, as well as diversity in race and sexuality that were very nice, but this was not a love story within a fantasy adventure, and for that I am grateful. Apparently we’re getting some steamy scenes in A Conjuring of Light, however, so I may need to reassess after I read that installment. I’m curious about Kell and Holland’s pasts, and I can’t wait to learn more about Black London when I pick up A Gathering of Shadows later this month.
Book two, A Gathering of Shadows, was just released in paperback (and conveniently arrived at my house the next day), and book three, A Conjuring of Light, comes out TODAY in hardcover. My covers aren’t going to match, but at least I’ll have all three books for the V. E. Schwab signing I’m going to on the 27th (Next Monday!) here in Boston. This will be my first book event, so I’m very excited.
HHC Rating: 3.75 Stars