Series: Shades of Magic #2
Published by Tor Books on February 23rd 2016
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ+
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.
Kell would say it was impossible. What a useless word, in a world with magic.
I can’t deal. I am dead.
Sometimes you find yourself in a reading slump or you want to read but 9pm feels like 1am, uni is swallowing your soul whole and you feel too exhausted to live. Reading just feels like a chore. That was me before I started A Gathering of Shadows.
And that’s why you need favourite authors. Those magical people you can always count on to deliver something that you will love. That is Victoria Schwab for me. A Gathering of Shadows is yet another addition to my favourite-books-by-Schwab list.
I really liked A Darker Shade of Magic. Victoria Schwab’s writing is beautiful; witty and humorous when it needs to be, poetic when it serves. Her worldbuilding is phenomenal, so richly imaginative that you want to smash your head against the wall because you just can’t understand how anybody could come up with something that good (or because you hate yourself for not coming up with it first). She is also uniquely gifted at pacing, making even slower moving sequences feel like they’re flying by, without ever letting any space for boredom. Where the first instalment let me down, however, was the characters. It’s not that I disliked any of them, they just felt slightly tropy and like characters I had seen before. Well, let me tell you, Schwab completely rectified this in this spectacular second instalment. The characterisation was more complex, the story threads more intricately interwoven. The line between good and evil smudged.
This book pulses with magic. Around every street corner, under every pebble, there is something new to discover, another detail that adds to the whole picture. You truly feel like you’re in the story: you can smell the sea, hear the bustling of the market, feel the magical river giving life. It’s all so wonderful.
A Gathering of Shadows pulls you deeper into the world than the previous book, bringing you new things to discover and be fascinated by. You may have heard people say this book is about a magical competition, and it does feature one – the Essen Tasch – but it’s really not the main plot point. The Essen Tasch is just a way to get all the characters back together and oh the glory that ensues. The characters and their chemistry are truly one of a kind.
We have Kell who is plagued by his past experiences and mistakes, yet he is such a caring and genuinely good person that we cannot help but love him. Undeniably, there is also darkness in him and the layers of his character just keep on building.
And then the night snapped back into focus and he realized he was standing there holding eight lives in his hand, and he’d almost ended them. Not to punish them for attacking Rhy (the prince had probably provoked them) and not because they were bad men (though several of them might have been). But just because he could, because it felt good to be in control, to be the strongest, to know that when it came down to it, he would be the one left standing.
Then we have Lila, who, I will fully admit, can be extremely frustrating with her impulsive and reckless behaviour, and yet is so consistent and full of wit and life, that we love her anyway.
We also get more of Rhy which I guarantee will make you happy. He is just as complex as Kell and Lila and always adds some humour to serious situations. I love him so so much.
“What brings you to my room?” he asked, relief bleeding into annoyance.
“Adventure. Intrigue. Brotherly concern. Or,” continued the prince lazily, “perhaps I’m just giving your mirror something to look at besides your constant pout.”
Kell frowned, and Rhy smiled. “Ah, there it is! That famous scowl.”
We’re also introduced to a new character at the beginning of the story, Alucard, and I’ve probably never had a crush on a fictional character that quickly. Seriously, he’s amazing and made me laugh out loud many times.
As for the romance in this novel, there admittedly isn’t much of it, but what is there, isn’t only swoon-worthy and heart-racing, but also unpredictable. You genuinely don’t know who is going to end up with whom until you’re already far along in the story. Props to Victoria Schwab for accomplishing something that pretty much every other author fails at.
My only real complaint is something that happens at the very end, which I found to be slightly unrealistic and contrived, but it didn’t bother me enough to make me deduct half a star.
Honestly, I could go on and on about this book, give you a detailed breakdown of every character, but I don’t want to. This is a series you should discover for yourself, let its beauty unfurl before you.
This series is an absolute favourite of mine; evocatively told and incredibly creative with strange characters that pull at your heartstrings. I highly recommend it to every fantasy lover out there. Now all there is to do is slowly go into hibernation so that the wait for the third book won’t feel as long.