Title: A Gathering of Shadows
Author: V. E. Schwab
Series: Shades of Magic #2
Genres: Adult Fiction, Fantasy
Format: E-Book, 512 pages
Publisher: Tor Books
Release Date: Feb. 23rd, 2016
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 neighboring 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.
Before last year, I had never read a V. E. Schwab book despite hearing about them all the time. Then a friend of mine suggested we read A Darker Shade of Magic together and after only a chapter in, I was asking myself why I hadn’t. A Darker Shade of Magic captivated me from the very start and I couldn’t put it down (despite the two parts per day limit me and my friend had set for ourselves.) And then it was over and the wait for the second book began.
A Gathering of Shadows picks up four months after the events of the first book. We are immediately thrust into action as the author wastes no time, and it is glorious. Delilah Bard is back in full swing with her wits that are as sharp as her knives. Our beloved heroine has definitely kept busy during the time gap, she has learnt a lot but she is also the same Lila we came to love in the first book. I have to point out how craftily Victoria Schwab handles the narration in those first few chapters, keeping readers in the dark until the last possible moment. Some might argue that the unreliable narrative might not work in third person, but this first part of the book proves them all wrong. Not only does it work, it works magically.
We get a handful of new additions to the cast from very early on as Lila regroups with her new mates after fulfilling a particularly dangerous bet, but perhaps the most interesting new acquaintance proves to be the Night Spire’s captain – privateer Alucard Emery. He’s charming and sarcastic, with an air of mystery surrounding him. In truth, he reminded me so much of The Grisha Trilogy’s Sturmhond, that I fell in love with the captain straight away. From his very first appearance to every time his name was mentioned and down to his very last appearance in this book, Alucard Emery charms you and, just like that, you’ve fallen into his trap. (Admittedly, it is a very lovely trap.) Apart from being a skilled captain that can speak perfect High Royal (or English, if you’re not feeling so pretentious), Emery is also a most skilled magician, a triad, to be precise – someone who can wield three elements instead of the average one or two. His abilities are not often put on display, but when they are, it is with a flare. And, as it turns out, he is quite well acquainted with some of our friends – his relationship with a certain prince delighted me most. All in all, Alucard Emery is a perfectly well-rounded character that you can’t help but dedicate an entire paragraph in your review about.
The new additions are not limited to just the Night Spire’s captain and his crew, however, as a magical tournament called The Essen Tasch brings all kinds of new faces to the crowd from all points of the world – Kell’s world, that is. We get to meet and greet some glowing personages both home and visiting ones. Granted, most of them are greeted in passing, but they make sure to leave an impression. (Especially the woman captain that didn’t mesmerize just Lila.) We also get to meet some otherworldly new characters as well, which definitely don’t fall behind. Ojka, the White Londoner, for one, is a good example. We don’t get to hear as much about her as we do with Emery, but Ojka is captivating enough the way she is written, which just drives the point further that you do not need to read a character’s entire biography to find them interesting.
Another new face from White London is Osaron, from whom we hear even less than Ojka, but still has the largest presence in the entire book. From the very beginning you can tell that he is a very layered, powerful character that we’re only getting the tip of the iceberg from. Undoubtedly, like A Darker Shade of Magic was the Dane twins’ book, the third one in this series will go to Osaron.
Out of the returning characters, I still loved Lila the most, and was so glad to see her be developed into an even more realistic character. She has come a long way from picking pockets in the glum Grey London streets – she now pick-pockets entire ships, single-handedly! There is a brutality in Lila that is (unfortunately) not allowed in many female characters without repercussions. Schwab does not hold back with her heroine, whose instinct is not the only thing killer about her, while still allowing Lila to be more than just a badass with a knife. The vulnerability and determination is where this girl’s true strengths lay, not in her ability to wield a weapon. What is more, despite being particularly skilled in combat and magic and thieving, Lila does not feel like a Mary Sue at all. All her great abilities come from practice and a will of steel that Lila has acquired from a life on the streets. She definitely hasn’t had anything handed to her – Delilah Bard takes it for herself.
Aside from my complete worship of everything that is Lila, the character that surprised me most was Rhy Maresh. I can safely say he has the biggest – and best – character development yet, starting out as a flirtatious, easy-going royal and turning into a person that truly feels the weight of the crown, and more. The chapters we get from his point of view are raw and messy, and we quickly come to realize how big of an impact the last book’s events have had on Rhy. As I read about his gloomy thoughts and disturbing nightmares, I kept wishing we could go back to the time where he wasn’t hiding pain behind a mask of false cheerfulness.
I feel like Kell is most underappreciated in my review, so I cannot go without saying a few words about our precious magician prince. He remains fiercely royal to the family and people that have now all but shunned him for something he did not commit which I can’t help but admire. Kell has sacrificed an entire life for Arnes despite longing for freedom, without so much of a complaint and continues to sacrifice long after he is no longer regarded as a hero, but seen as the villain. He is most affected by the events of the Black Night, especially since he blames himself for all of it, but continues to put on a brave face and march through the glares and whispers, which really showcases the strength of his character. This book, if nothing else, is proof of why Kell deserves to be a main role in the story.
I was very excited to see the world expanded in this second installment, and that we got to travel to more than just Red London. We saw corners of other empires, as well glimpses of the other Londons. Admittedly, I missed travelling with Kell, but I was grateful that there was at least one more errand run.
The expansion on magic was also very much welcome and The Essen Tasch was a worthy arena of showcasing the different peoples and their strengths and customs. The fantasy element grew into such a large scale, fit for the story that the author is telling. I particularly enjoyed witnessing the magic combats and the different strategies that the opponents took. The challenges are tough and keep you on the edge of your seats but that is what is expected of the most talented magicians. In the end, I was incredibly satisfied with the winner.
In conclusion, A Gathering of Shadows is a great sequel to an already amazing series. The characters, new and old, are captivating and realistic that you can’t help but feel and root for, while the story does not fall short or slow its pace – the plot still feels significant to the general picture, while maintaining a lighter air than its predecessor. Call it the calm before the storm. And what a storm it will be.