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 non-magical inhabitants of 4 Londons – Grey, and non-magical London; Red, harmonious, and magical London; White, chaotic and brutal London; and Black London, the most magical of all, and destroyed long ago. Central characters of this story are Kell, the young, powerful magician, fiercely loyal to his family, and country, able to move between worlds, and Lila Bard, the independent, highly ambitious, thief who would do stop at nothing to get what she wants.
A Gathering of Shadows continues 4 months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, and if A Darker Shade of Magic 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 lives and adventures, independently, revealing more of their personalities, their personal fears, vulnerabilities, and dreams, as well as how their recent shared experiences has changed them – and not exactly for the better.
Taking place mostly in Red London, the parts of the book that features Kell focuses on the marked changes he’s felt within himself 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, on the other hand, follow Lila on her adventures in the high seas, aboard the Night Spire, the awakening of her magic, and other self discoveries. Along with 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, as well as focusing more on characters introduced in A Darker Shade of Magic. The actual plot of the novel isn’t introduced until well past the novel’s halfway mark, an inter-empire tournament of magicians called the Essen Tasch, or Element Games, where 36 magicians from three empires compete with each other 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 Essen Tasch, 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 more menacing plot which will unfold in the third installment of series, but leaves readers of A Gathering of Shadows with a distressing cliffhanger.
The last few chapters and sub-chapters of a Gathering of Shadows more than makes up for the rest of the novel, which, unlike, A Darker Shade of Magic which focuses on world-building, focuses more on the evolution of the different characters. In A Gathering of Shadows, we see a considerably different Kell – one who is darker, and more serious, and one who has been permanently changed by his experiences in the previous novel. We see a Kell who, though only 4 months has passed, has matured and has become increasingly restless, not just with his role in his family, but with his role in the country. Even Lila, whose lot in life seemed to have improved since ADSOM, undergo changes and learn a hard lesson or two about the consequences of her choices and actions.
Again, like in ADSOM, readers won’t actually notice until later that A Gathering of Shadows doesn’t have much of a plot – and again, readers won’t actually mind. The new characters introduced, as well as the personal conflicts of the main character is quite enough to keep you reading toward the end – an end which only promises greater conflict, greater adventure, and stronger relationships in the last book, A Conjuring of Light, set to be released on February 21, 2017.
If ADSOM was the last book I read for 2016 – I read it from Christmas day to New Year’s Day, A Gathering of Shadows is my first book of 2017 – and 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, like The Hunger Games, or Harry Potter‘s Tri-Wizard Cup. Fortunately, the Essen Tasch was just a minor distraction before the real, more devious conflict began. If ADSOM felt more like a YA novel, A Gathering of Shadows is a lot darker, with more angst, and sexual tension (and longing) between the different characters.
The thing about starting a series – 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 still feels like forever. Most of readers complain online that they had to wait years between the books. I guess I’m luckier than most, in that I started the series mid December, and don’t have to wait too long for the finale. Still…20 some days still seem too long.
Good news though, 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 will play the different characters, though many netizens have already suggested their dream cast, but most importantly, no news either on when it will get 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