Most people only know one London; but what if there were several?
Kell is one of the last Travellers, magicians with a rare ability to travel between parallel Londons.
There is Grey London, dirty and crowded and without magic, home to the mad king George III. There is Red London, where life and magic are revered. Then, White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne.
But once upon a time, there was Black London…
I feel as though I should be making a clichéd but heartfelt break-up speech as I abandon this book. You know the one I mean. It starts, ‘It’s not you, it’s me…‘
This is the first book of a well-loved series. I’d been looking forward to reading it and yet, two hours in to an eleven and a half hour audiobook, I’m setting it aside.
I can see why it’s so well-loved. It combines a complex magic system with linked but parallel worlds and adds larger-than-life characters, a magician with the title of a Prince but the mark of stolen memories and a sense of being a valued Royal possession and a young woman, living by her wits in a hostile world. Both have restless yearnings in their souls and secrets in their past and there’s is an implicit contract to connect them as the story continues
So what’s not to like?
My problem started with the narrator. Steven Crossley delivers the book in the slow, even, slightly condescending tones of an unamused adult reading ‘Wind In The Willows’ to a child not their own. He sounds bored, so how am I supposed to feel?
Then there’s the pacing. I’m two hours in and everything has been set up and slightly chaotic data-ladened set up at that. Yes, there’s been one attempted rape and a killing but there was very little fire in either. This is a book that says to the reader, ‘Make yourself comfortable, this is going to take a while‘. Sometimes, I love that but not this time.
Next, there’s the tone. It all feels a bit too safe and tame. The kind of adventure imagined by someone who has never had anything bad happen to them. Which is fine. Like I said, ‘It’s not you, it’s me…‘ but the title led me to expect something darker.
Finally, there’s the London thing. Or rather, there isn’t. This could be Xanadu and it would make no difference. There’s no sense of London here. I don’t just mean the geography, I mean the sense of a city that has always used the weak and consumed the over-ambitious while feeding the powerful few. Nothing wrong with a well-imagined Xanadu but why call it London?
These little dissatisfactions are like having sand in my shoes, they take the pleasure out of walking. So I’m going to stop for now. Maybe I’ll come back to an e-book version when I’m feeling young and light-hearted but, the way the world is right now, that’s not going to be anytime soon.