In Schwab’s world, there are four parallel Londons. The lands used to be connected by doors through which some people, and magic, could travel. After Black London’s greediness for magic became its destruction, the doors between lands were sealed. Kell, raised by the ruling family of Red London, does not know how he became one of the few remaining blood magicians who can move between lands. Using the ability to deliver correspondence to dangerous White London and magic-less Grey London, he often gives in to a weakness for smuggling artifacts into his personal collection which is how he crosses paths with Lila Bard. The young pickpocket just wants her own pirate ship but can barely steal enough coin for room and board in Grey London. In Kell, she sees an opportunity for adventure and escape and no amount of danger will scare her away.
Though the world-building is a little loose, parallel cities is an intriguing construct and the main characters really shine in this first book of the series. Kell is more serious and brooding, given the effects of dark magic he’s seen, while Lila is spirited and seemingly fearless with nothing to lose. Action-packed, menacing, and often violent adventure is warmed and lightened by their warily-developing friendship. The main plot is satisfactorily resolved but Schwab leaves plenty of loose ends about the characters to hook readers into the sequel.
Readalikes: Somewhat similar to Uprooted by Naomi Novik and Sorcerer to the Crown by Zen Cho – the male character is more knowledgable and skilled in magic but the younger female character is just coming into her own and may prove to be just as formidable.
Notes: Listened to first 2/3 on audio – Steven Crossley at 1.25 speed was good.