A Gathering of Shadows
by V. E. Schwab
Rating: 5 + Stars
It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift – back into Black London.
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games – an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighbouring countries – a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall…
Please note that this is the review of the second book in a series – as such there will be SPOILERS for the first book in the trilogy – A Darker Shade of Magic reviewed here.
Oh this was such a pleasure to read, it took me a while to get to it as I was determined to reread the first book before going further with the series, but it was definitely worth the wait. The experience of reading them back to back was very rewarding and I loved all the little details that linked the narrative together.
I was delighted to find that I enjoyed this book just as much as the first, if not more, but it’s a very different creature. ADSOM reads as much more of a standalone novel, whereas Gathering is definitely a lead-in to the big showdown of the third book. Don’t expect things to wrap up in a neat bow this time – we’re heading towards the big finale…
As events kick off we’ve had a time-jump from the end of the first novel. The main characters are struggling to deal with the consequences of their actions. Lila is close to getting everything she’d ever dreamed of but the thought of it terrifies her, Kai is reeling from his mistakes and Rhy is consumed by guilt for limiting his brother’s life.
Things move a bit slowly at the beginning of the book whilst Schwab catches us up in the events of the past few months and fleshes out a lot of new characters and new locations. But things soon pick up the pace and soon we’re hurtling through the complicated politics of Red London with all our characters becoming wrapped up in a magical tournament.
This is a marked change of tactic from the first book. As events move on, we spend less time world hopping and more time concentrating on character development. In ADSOM we were hurtled about between worlds at breakneck pace, here the plot builds gradually giving Schwab time to illustrate how the world has changed for Rhy, Lila and Kell in the wake of the vitari incident.
We didn’t see much of Rhy in the first book, but he’s fast becoming my favourite character. He could very easily have just been a ‘Playboy Prince’ but Schwab is much cleverer than that. He’s a character with great depth, he understands duty but he’s also driven by loyalty and his determination for Kell to be allowed to live a full life is wonderful. We got little hints from Kell in the first novel, about how their relationship works as a form of well-balanced double act and now we get to see it all play out first hand. The banter, the brotherhood and the history between these two is a pleasure to behold.
Kell is really struggling at the beginning of the book, the actions he took to save his brother and his world have had dangerous consequences. Already distant from his adopted parents he finds himself increasingly isolated and unsure of his position in the world. This starts to make him act recklessly but he’s always trying to protect his friends and his home even when they’re not exactly thankful for it.
Lila’s changing a lot to, she’s starting to learn that there’s more to life than running and it scares her out of her wits. I was really pleased that Schwab allowed Lila’s plans to unravel, to make her transition between worlds far from smooth. When we start the book Lila is not where she had planned to be after making her escape from her homeworld. She’s had to adapt, but she’s having fun and she’s learning. It’s great to see her interacting with the other members of the crew and Alucard in particular, at the end of the day she’s still definitely Lila Bard.
As for the other characters, we see some old favourites but there’s some new faces as well. We get to see more of the King and Queen, although their motives remain mysterious. The Aven Esen also has a bigger role and I’m so glad she brought back Calla! We also get some new secondary characters – including a host of new magic users. Rhy’s new guards are very well done and Alucard is just brilliant. I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about him at the beginning, but once I saw where Schwab was going with his storyline and especially once you learn a bit more about his history I was completely on side.
I loved the way Schwab dealt with the elemental magic of the games. It would have been very easy to just focus on the magic of Lila and Kell, without ever going into the mechanics of a magical society as a whole. But that wouldn’t have been complicated enough for Schwab, hoh no. I’m hoping we get more of this in the next book and that we might get to see more of the world beyond the empire.
Very few, there were some issues with the pacing due to the recounting of what happened to Lila after the end of the first book. The tournament does feel like it’s over a bit too quickly and Kell does something incredibly naïve towards the end and this time he hasn’t even been drugged. But apart from this I have few complaints.
Roll on book three please!