A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in my newly discovered and recent favorite fantasy series Shades of Magic by V.E. Schwab. It tells the story of the magical and nonmagical inhabitants of four Londons: Grey and nonmagical London; Red, harmonious, and magical London; White, chaotic ,and brutal London; and Black London, the most magical of all but destroyed long ago. Central characters of this story are Kell, the young, powerful magician who is fiercely loyal to his family and country and able to move between worlds and Lila Bard, the independent highly ambitious thief who would stop at nothing to get what she wants.
A Gathering of Shadows continues four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM), and if that novel took its sweet time getting to the heart of the novel, A Gathering of Shadows takes forever to reveal its plot. Most of the book follows Lila and Kell’s life and adventures, separately revealing their personalities, fears, vulnerabilities, and dreams as well as how their recent shared experiences have changed them, though not exactly for the better.
Taking place mostly in Red London, the parts of the book that feature Kell focuses on the marked changes he’s felt in the past 4 months as well as the changes around him; in how the world looks at him and how his family treats him. Chapters featuring Lila follow her adventures in the high seas aboard the Night Spire, the awakening of her magic, and other self discoveries. In addition to Kell and Lila, A Gathering of Shadows introduces a handful of colorful and interesting characters, such as the dashing, mysterious Captain Alucard Emery and the menacing Ojka, and focuses on characters introduced in ADSOM. The actual plot of the novel isn’t introduced until well past the halfway mark, that is, an inter-empire tournament of magicians called the Essen Tasch, or Element Games, where 36 magicians from three empires compete with one another until a champion emerges. The games are held every 3 years, and the previous champion being from Arnes, it is Red London’s honor and privilege to host the upcoming games, the success of which would solidify their strength in the eyes of the other kingdoms. The actual games don’t actually start until the last 2 chapters of the book, and while the novel takes its sweet time getting to the Essen Tasch, it rushes through the actual games, revealing a menacing plot that will unfold in the third installment of series and leaving readers with a distressing cliffhanger.
The last few chapters and sub-chapters of a Gathering of Shadows more than make up for the rest of the novel, which, unlike ADSOM, focuses on the development of the different characters. In A Gathering of Shadows, we see a considerably different Kell; one who is dark, serious, and permanently changed by his experiences in the previous novel. We see a Kell who has matured and has become increasingly restless not just in his role in his family but in his role in the country. Even Lila, whose lot in life seemed to have improved since ADSOM, undergoes changes and learns hard lessons about the consequences of her choices and actions.
Similar to ADSOM, readers won’t actually notice until much later that A Gathering of Shadows doesn’t have much of a plot. However, I don’t think they would actually mind. The newly introduced characters as well as inner conflicts of the protagonists are enough to keep readers going until the end, which promises serious conflicts, dangerous adventures, and strong relationships in the last book, A Conjuring of Light, which is set to be released on February 21, 2017.
ADSOM was the last book I read in 2016 (I read it from Christmas day to New Year’s day), and A Gathering of Shadows is the first book I read in 2017 (I finished it in 4 days). Not a bad way to start the year. Like ADSOM, I enjoyed this novel immensely. At first mention of the Essen Tasch, or the tournament of magicians, I dreaded that the novel would become just another “games” novel, such as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter‘s Tri-Wizard Cup. Fortunately, the Essen Tasch was just a minor distraction before the real, devious conflict began. ADSOM felt like a YA novel, but A Gathering of Shadows was a lot darker, with more angst and sexual tension (and longing) between the different characters.
The thing about starting a good series before it has ended is the wait you have to endure before the next book comes out. The third book, A Conjuring of Light, is going to be released on February 21, 2017, and though it’s only a little over a month, it feels like forever. Readers were complaining online that they had to wait years for the books. I guess I’m luckier than most, because I started the series mid December and didn’t have to wait too long for the finale. Still…20+ days is too long to wait.
However, good news for fangirls and fanboys alike, last February, V.E. Schwab announced that ADSOM is being made into a limited television series! No news yet who is playing the different characters, though numerous netizens have suggested their dream cast. Most important, no news on when it will be aired. Hoping it won’t be too far into the future!
A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) (2016) – V.E. Schwab
Tor; 509 pages (Hardbound)
Personal rating: 4/5