A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows

Rating: ★★★★★

A Gathering of Shadows picks up the story of Lila, Kell and Rhy some four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic.  Much of what happens in this novel stems directly from the first, and so you should read them in order.  I’ve done my best to avoid giving spoilers to A Darker Shade of Magic, but if you haven’t read it (and you really should!) you might want to look away now.

In A Gathering of Shadows, we return to Schwab’s brilliantly imagined four parallel Londons:

  • Our own Grey London – magic free and dreary
  • Red London, which reveres magic
  • White London, where magic is something to be fought over and possessed
  • Black London, which was destroyed by magic long ago

Predominantly set in Red London, A Gathering of Shadows focuses on the build up to the Essen Tasch – the elemental games (something between gladiatorial combat and the Olympics for magicians) – a five-day long competition that brings together neighbouring realms for sport, ceremony, and of course politics.

Yet while the focus in Red London is on ensuring a good show, in another London something is stirring… something dark, and powerful.  Because while Black London is assumed to be dead, no one has actually proven that to be the case…

I went into A Gathering of Shadows both with high expectations and a little apprehension.  I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, and while I was keen to throw myself back into this inventive world, I was a little concerned that it wouldn’t live up to the previous novel.  I needn’t have worried.  Schwab has successfully avoided that ‘second book in a series’ syndrome, and has delivered a story that is as inventive and captivating as the first novel was.

The characters that I loved from A Darker Shade of Magic are back, and are further developed in this second novel.  Lila has spent the last four months living on the high seas, fulfilling her dreams of living a pirate’s life.  She’s bold and reckless, and her tongue, and her knives, are as sharp as ever.

A friend once told me that if there was trouble to found, I’d find it.

Unexpectedly, Lila manages to create further havoc in this novel.  She lives life on the edge, and takes action with little thought of the consequences.  I enjoyed Lila’s inner turmoil in this novel.  For someone who has always valued her independence, who has never let anyone get close, the close confines of the ship mean that it’s difficult not to form connections with the crew.  Whilst still intensely private, we see her guard start to slip a little in this novel.

Whilst Lila’s recent past has been one of adventure, Kell hasn’t had such a great time.  Mistrusted by King and Queen (his adoptive parents) following the near catastrophic events in the first book, he is no longer free to exercise his powers as an “Antari” – one of the few magicians who can travel between alternate Londons.  He feels trapped and hard done by, and rightly so.  Kell is loyal to a fault, and I couldn’t help but feel the injustice of his situation.  After all, he’s made a huge sacrifice for Rhy, his adoptive brother, heir to the throne, and I was angered by the injustice of his situation.  I think it’s a strong testament to Schwab’s characterisation when you feel that strongly for a character and their situation.

A Gathering of Shadows also sees a new character introduced into the mix – Alucard Emery, Lila’s captain.  I won’t spoil the surprise, but he is an excellent character, and I’m hoping to see more of him in the next book.

These books have everything that I look for in this kind of novel – excellent prose, exquisite world-building, an inventive magic system, complex characters.  All boxes are ticked.  The plot moves along at a cracking pace, and even when there isn’t a great deal of action, I was still engrossed in the story.

Whereas A Darker Shade of Magic had a definite ending, an absolute stop point with the scope for further adventures, A Gathering of Shadows ends on one hell of a cliff-hanger, and I can’t wait to see what happens next.  The third book in what I believe to be a trilogy – A Conjuring of Light – is scheduled for release in 2017, and I’m not sure that I can wait that long!!

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