Warnings: Some negative aspects but mostly positive. This review will definitely contain spoilers even for the books beyond this one. Also I read it in a translation, and I’ve tried to get the spelling of things right but some might be off, I apologize.
Right from the first sentence I can say that I was definitely completely hooked. I read that first sentence and immediately handed it over to the cashier, and this is how all books should be. I still like to open and reread those first few words sometimes and they never get less exciting – and from then on it was an amazing, fun, diverse, wild ride!
The world building is solid, presented in small bits and pieces, given to you in manageable doses and always leaving you wondering about just more, just this, just that, but it was beautifully executed and definitely not irritatingly vague. I did get a feeling that it made the world seem closed within the Londons, i.e. I kept forgetting a world outside of them exists, which bothered me a little in retrospect, but this might change in later books – and I definitely understand the decision to do it that way, considering Kell himself only focuses on the Londons. I have very small nitpicks with the way Red London was presented in regards of how it uses its magic, but it’s really probably just me being overly critical for that one.
The concept of the antari and traveling to alternate worlds in itself was already incredible, and presented so well. The exposition was very smooth, and the pacing between scenes was just right. I never felt like the narration was inconsistent with the atmosphere of each separate scene, and I always knew when things were serious and when they weren’t. All the characters presented in those scenes stood vividly in my mind, whether they were the main cast or someone from the background – and speaking of, the visual descriptions were extremely good! Vague enough so that you don’t get overwhelmed, but enough so that you know what to imagine.
I was also absolutely delighted to read about Rhy Maresh! He deserves his own little mention, not only because he is such a well-developed and complex character (that as far as I know gets even better developed later on, but just within one book he’s already great) but also because of how casually his bisexuality was mentioned; every author that has a character like him should take special care to write them as casually as Rhy was written – no extreme focus or unnecessary dramatics. The bond between him and Kell has a special place in my heart, too, and at no point did I ever have any doubt that the two loved each other as brothers more than anyone else could probably even imagine – even before what Kell did for him at the end. Beautifully done. I won’t mention anyone else besides Lila a little further down even though I definitely loved everyone I met, even the characters that weren’t supposed to be positive, and I was so happy with such a diverse cast in the first place.
I did have a slight problem with the way Lila’s character with written. It vaguely felt to me as if the author didn’t take enough time to get to know her as well as she did Kell; there were many instances in which some things Lila did simply didn’t add up with the personality that she was given, or if they did, they seemed off. Another problem might be that a lot of her thought process simply wasn’t psychologically solid to me as a human being. It’s difficult to describe, but it was made extremely clear that Lila’s past was difficult, yet the way her thoughts flow just doesn’t match the trauma one would get from that. You could of course argue that all of her daydreams about being a pirate – and they were childish daydreams, mind you – are just a defense mechanism that her mind developed to shield her (which is fine if done right), but the issue is that in that case she’d have to be that much of a dreamer outward as well – while in many instances, she seems to have her feet firmly on the ground and have a very good grip of her realistic situation, which simply doesn’t match very well with the rest of the characterization given to her and the overly childish, for her age at that point, fantasies she has. If she were a few years younger then it would be definitely more believable.
One thing that really bothered me was the implied (and in later books developed, as I discovered) romance between Kell and Lila. Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t usually dislike heterosexual ships in fiction whatsoever, and I’m a big advocate of the idea that you can become smitten with someone within just a day of knowing them – so factors such as time and gender is really not what the issue was for me. I just didn’t see that chemistry. I feel like the author simply envisioned them getting together eventually but wasn’t entirely sure how to get them there (or at least the writing makes it seem that way); it reminds me a little bit of Lila’s characterization that I mentioned above – as if Schwab somehow didn’t get to know them well enough to write them in that way, and the result is that their chemistry is simply not romantic. Kell and Lila have an amazing and incredible dynamic and I loved reading about their interactions, but I simply can’t get myself to see their relationship as more than platonic, in this or future books. To me, they’re more like siblings than potential lovers (kind of like Rachel and Joey in the sitcom FRIENDS and I apologize you now know my dark secrets), and I was disappointed to learn that eventually a romance does get developed (and kept).
Whether to review this book or not was a bit of a dilemma for me; while I don’t normally mind including a negative opinion even on books I liked, in this case I felt bad for it because I actually loved it that much – but here it is! I had things to say. Whew.
Conclusion: It wasn’t what I expected when I opened the first page and I really loved it! Also kudos for Rhy and Alucard later on. Wow.
Would I recommend: Yes, absolutely. Go read the whole series!