Kell wore a very peculiar coat.
It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but several, which was, of course, impossible.
The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not all of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.
So when Kell passed through the palace wall and into the anteroom, he took a moment to steady himself — it took its toll, moving between worlds — and then shrugged out of his red, high-collared coat and turned it inside out from right to left so that it became a simple black jacket. Well, a simple black jacket elegantly lined with silver thread and adorned with two gleaming columns of silver buttons. Just because he adopted a more modest palette when he was abroad (wishing neither to offend the local royalty nor to draw attention) didn’t mean he had to sacrifice style.
Kell is one of the last remaining Antari, a magician with mismatched eyes and the ability to travel between worlds. He hails from London, but not as we know it — to keep track of the overlapping cities, he has nicknamed the worlds by colours, and his is Red London, after the colour of the Thames. In his world, magic is widely used, and infuses everything from the river waters to the earth and air. By contrast, Lila is a young thief in magicless Grey London. She spends most of her time disguised as a boy for safety, and dreams of forging a new life as a pirate captain. The third city, White London, is a violent place, ruled by twins who obtained the throne by murder and retain it through cruelty. And then there’s Black London, oft discussed about but never visited, where life has been completely obliterated by magic out of control.
I loved the construction of the three Londons, and the way their interactions were defined and constrained by their respective natures. Grey London is without magic, save for whatever the occasional visiting magician brings through; its relations to other worlds are purely diplomatic. Red London is vibrant and vivid, but its overflowing magic makes it a tempting target for the White rulers, who are always looking to expand and conquer. From the beginning, the balance of power between worlds is obviously precarious.
Kell and Lila are both extremely compelling characters. Kell’s unique gift has led the Red royal family to adopt him, but although he doesn’t doubt the love of his brother, he feels more like a possession than a true family member. Despite his life of wealth and privilege, these feelings simmer constantly beneath the surface. For her part, Lila has no family: she’s a skilled pickpocket, and a self-reliant individual with no wish to become involved with anyone else. When Kell happens upon a forbidden relic from Black London, however, and Lila stumbles across his path, everything changes for both of them. As Kell fears for the stability of his world and works to pick apart the mysteries and conspiracies that are threatening them, Lila becomes for the first time aware of magic and worlds beyond her own, and seizes the opportunity for adventure beyond her wildest dreams. Their reluctant and uncertain alliance lies at the heart of the book, and I loved every minute of it.