I picked this up after seeing it on LouLouReads’ blog. The title intrigued me and then I read the official blurb and was like okay I like this idea of parallel worlds I’ll give it a go. Thankfully, my local library had the first two and I got them the next day and the third had a very short wait list.
Like LouLouReads I agree that the book was rather one-dimensional to start. I do feel that it grew, but I’m not sure Schwab’s writing deserves the accolade touted in her bio, “the natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones.” Those are some huge shoes to fill that Shwab might be able to do some day.
Where the book got me, rather than the characters, was the writing and pacing. It was quick paced, but in such a way that it felt mass-produced and aiming specifically for a movie deal. The lack of details, minimal minor characters, and the fast paced/cliffhanger made this really feel more written as a puffed up screenplay than a paired down book.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Kell and Lila and was engaged with their story, but all the rest of it just happened so fast and there was very little (if any) sub character or plot development. I was SHOCKED to find that these books were here “adult” books. There was nothing in this one that made me think this would be rated more than a PG-13. It was a little violent, but less violent than Hunger Games! It wasn’t very sexual and the language was PG-13 rated as well. And then moving away from that I felt the plot and the writing were rather juvenile. This isn’t an epic fantasy like The Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter, but it could be with more detail, world building. and characters; but alas it is not.
Now on to what I liked, I guess, about the book. I really liked the feeling of the three Londons. I don’t think it was based on the descriptions, those seem to be in passing, but the feeling came through somehow – the griminess of Grey London (aka ours and Lila’s) . . . the magic of Red London (Kell’s) . . . and the danger and edginess of White London. I could’ve read a book about each of the London’s rather than about the one person jumping between them, but that’s just me.
“The three canvases were tacked side by side, the sole decoration on the walls. From a distance, they could have passed for the same map—the same outline of the same island country—but up close, only the word London could be found on all three. Grey London. Red London. White London. The map on the left was of Great Britain, from the English Channel up through the tips of Scotland, every facet rendered in detail. By contrast, the map on the right held almost none. Makt, the country called itself, the capital city held by the ruthless Dane twins, but the territory beyond was in constant flux. The map in the middle Kell knew best, for it was home. Arnes. The country’s name was written in elegant script down the length of the island, though in truth, the land on which London stood was only the tip of the royal empire.” (55)
Imagine the story of the Danes and Holland (White London)—the bloodshed, the magic, the breaking it’s all only hinted at and we get a small taste of it towards the end of this book. And imagine the story of Grey London and how it lost its magic—it’s a throw away line, but I’m always fascinated at how a world gains or loses magic. SO MANY POSSIBILITIES. Instead we’re stuck with the depressed good vs. evil Kell and the I’m 99% sure I know where it’s going and what she is Lila. We’ll see if I’m right though.
“Magic was a living thing—that, everyone knew—but to Kell it felt like more, like a friend, like family. It was, after all, a part of him (much more than it was a part of most) and he couldn’t help feeling like it knew what he was saying, what he was feeling, not only when he summoned it, but always, in every heartbeat and every breath.” (34)
There were no major OMG moments for me. The one that I think was supposed to be the OMG WAIT WHAT!? moment was a little underwhelming for me because of how much attention Schwab does pay to one description of people and who noticed it and then it came up again and I was like well duh, when do we see if it is what it is?
Recommendation: Read it. It’s a fast paced quick read. I’m hoping Schwab’s writing gets a little more complex or that she tells everyone she accidentally labeled this as adult. My response is a bit more negative than I thought, but when you say something is something and it’s not AND they compare you to an author whose books you can vividly remember 20-30 years later it’s hard to overlook!
Opening Line: “Kell wore a very peculiar coat.”
Closing Line: “That one’ll do.“ (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)