“I’d rather die on an adventure than live standing still.”
Basically: In a world of alternate Londons, cross-dressing thieves, and coats with more than two sides, Kell’s multi-colored eyes still stand out in V.E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic.
Kell is a Traveler, one of the very few who are able to cross the barriers between worlds and enter the different versions of London: dirty, magic-less Grey London, power-hungry White London, and Red London, where magic is revered. As the adopted son of Red London’s Royal Family, Kell’s job is to carry correspondences between the rulers of each London, but he sometimes get distracted and ends up smuggling treasures over the borders…until one night, when he is given a powerful and magical artifact from Black London, a city that no longer exists.
Kell is a fascinating protagonist–with two different colored eyes, he physically stands out no matter which London he’s in, and people are fascinated by his magical abilities. His bromance with his adopted (and scene-stealing) brother, Prince Rhy, is precious, and their relationship is what sometimes gets Kell into trouble. But the standout character is Lila Bard: a cross-dressing thief from Grey London who dreams of becoming a pirate, she becomes Kell’s companion when he loses control over his Black London artifact. The two of them travel through the Londons, hoping to get rid of the artifact before it falls into the wrong hands–like those of the murderous rulers of White London who are a step behind them–while still making time to attend Prince Rhy’s birthday bash. Despite her flaws (her thieving, for example), Lila is sharp, sassy, and resourceful, and if you don’t want to be her by the end of the book, we can’t be friends. With a mysterious past, we get the sense that there’s more to Lila than just badass knife skills.
Though technically not a YA book, Schwab’s fantasy is a great crossover novel that will appeal to pretty much anyone. It’s not high-fantasy, but the world-building is well done with vivid descriptions that bring the different Londons to life. The characters jump off the pages and leave us wanting to follow them on more adventures; luckily, the sequel, A Gathering of Shadows, just came out!
In the end: Read it! A trip through the Londons beside Kell is exactly what you need to survive the rest of this winter.