V.E. Schwab created a fantastic series of worlds for her fantasy novel, A Darker Shade of Magic. With A Gathering of Shadows, she’s brought us back for a new series of adventures, which is both exhilarating, but which also doesn’t quite live up to its predecessor.
A Gathering of Shadows picks up just a couple of months following the events of A Darker Shade of Magic. Kell and Lila Bard have parted ways: Bard for the open seas, while Kell sinks back into his former life, now bound to his adoptive brother, Rhys. Meanwhile, life is creeping back to Black London, a world thought destroyed, and an old enemy of Kell’s is returning.
A magical tournament is coming together in Red London, one in which Rhys and Kell have ambitions to attend, for the thrill and excitement of it all. Little do they know that Lila has also set her sights on the tournament, and slowly, their secrets become tenuous, and tensions grow to their breaking point for everyone involved.
I really loved A Darker Shade of Magic, and there was a lot to really enjoy with A Gathering of Shadows. Schwab is a fantastic writer, and this book moves along quickly: it’s an easy world to immerse oneself in, and the four Londons that we get to visit are a treat to behold: they’re vibrant, interesting and detailed. The worldbuilding here is spectacular, and it’s worth picking up the book for this alone. (Well, and the fantastic cover.) The series is set to be adapted into a television series, and both books will be perfect for that.
Schwab uses this book to dig a little more deeply into Lila and Kell’s respective characters. Kell is straining at his role in the Royal court, and as an adopted member of the Royal family, complicated by the fact that he’s now bound to his brother’s life. These tensions have some real consequences for him and the King, a conflict that slowly boils over the course of the book.
The real treat here though is Lila Bard: her chapters are a delight, from her work as a pirate all the way to the contest. Schwab has drawn her well: She’s powerful, interesting, but flawed in some considerable ways, some of which push her right to the brink.
This is all frustrated by the course that the book takes. A full four fifths of the novel is spent bringing Lila and Kell together: each spends their time apart, and they’re brought slowly and inexorably together. While the two characters have trouble together, the book feels as though it’s been padded out by an extra hundred or so pages, none of which does much more than add atmosphere and some additional world building.
It’s a nice problem to have, because the scenery is great: but it still left me feeling that the book was spinning it’s wheels, biding its time before the real point of the story arrived in the last hundred or so pages.
Even more frustratingly, I kept wondering how the narrative would be wrapped up in fifty, then forty, then thirty pages, before realizing that one of the major hooks - that Black London was rising again - wasn’t going to be resolved at all. The end result was something that left me thinking that the book was really just setup for a third, as-of-unnamed installment of the series.
This is all well and good, because we get to see more adventures from Lila and Kell (and Schwab ends this book on one hell of a cliffhanger), but as a single volume, it’s not exactly a satisfying narrative.
This makes it sound like I hated the book: I didn’t. It’s a fine read, set in a really intriguing and interesting fantasy world, and I’m certainly planning on picking up the third book whenever it hits bookshelves. This is a series that is interesting, and most of all, fun to read, and A Gathering of Shadows delivers that in spades. I just wish that it felt a little less like a placeholder for what promises to be a really great adventure in the next book.
A Gathering of Shadows will be published on February 23rd in hardcover, eBook and audio from Audible.