Title: A Gathering Of Shadows
Author: V. E. Schwab
Series? Yes, 1 of 3.
Rating: 5/5 stars
This review contains spoilers for the first book of the series: A Darker Shade of Magic.
A Gathering of Shadows was one of my most anticipated release of 2016. Its predecessor, A Darker Shade of Magic, was one of the first books I reviewed on this blog and a top ten read from last year. Victoria Schwab is back in fine form in this sequel – once again giving us banter, heartstopping action, and Lila Bard – with more swagger than ever. Although I wish our main characters developed more depth, I can’t argue too much as the book was thoroughly entertaining.
“She bent most of the rules. She broke the rest.”
It’s no secret that my favourite character in this series is Lila Bard. She’s quite the polarising figure, with reviewers either loving or hating her – and to be fair, I would find her incredibly obnoxious if we met in real life. However, as a fictional character, I love her bull-headed selfishness and penchant for showmanship. Lila Bard fights with all her extensive might to be different, to buck against everyone’s expectations, to be more. With her mix of grand ambitions, coupled with the inability to keep a low profile – Lila is quite unique amongst fantasy’s offering of noble-hearted protagonist. She speaks in one liner, she weaves songs and superstition about herself, she seems to think she’s invincible, she keeps insisting she’s ‘not like most girls’ – in other words, she’s one flawed heroine. However, Lila does it all in such style, I can’t help but be smitten.
“If anyone could make the strange seem ordinary, the impossible look easy, it was Delilah Bard”
Nonetheless, I did hope to get more expansion on Lila’s character in AGOS. As it stands, I don’t think I know her any better as a person despite a 500+ pages addition to the story. Lila got little development in this installment, especially in comparison to Kell. Instead, her inner issues and conflict are beginning to stagnate. We are still faced with the same inner monologues she had in ADSOM: wanting to be free, wanting to escape. Although Lila gained a lot more power in this book in a physical and social sense, I felt her character could have been pushed further. Things come almost too easily for Lila: whether it be the sudden aptitude for magic and Arnesian, or half-baked plans that falls neatly into place thanks to authorial intent. Her chief function is ‘being really awesome at everything’ – and that’s cool, but I hope we will see more development in the final book.
“I gave him my life, but you cannot ask me to stop living.”
On the other hand, I love the direction the book took with Kell’s character. When we met him in ADSOM, Kell was living a pretty charmed life – adored prince and the most powerful magician in four worlds. Sure, he played at rebellion and teen angst, but he ultimately cruised through life up until the events of the first book. Now, we get to deal with the fallout and the real meaty stuff: Kell has lost favours with the Red London monarchs, he’s literally binded to Rhy for life, he’s in an incredibly dark and confusing place. Things seem to be falling at the seams for Kell, who’s desperation to keep it all together was difficult to see. Kell ultimately remains good and squishable, but I loved seeing circumstances challenge him time and again. His relationship with magic, now more than ever, is fraught with tension.
Magic was power, of course, but it wasn’t the only kind. Rhy told himself he could still be strong without it
Kell’s relationship with Rhy is also tested – and to my delight, we got to see a lot more of the Red London prince in this book. I enjoyed the development on Rhy’s character, who begins to move beyond the label of playboy and naive prince. His devotion to both his kingdom and Kell made for a nice turn, as is his struggle with his lack of magic. Alucard, a new character, is also fully fleshed out and made a nice foil to the rest of the cast. He mostly served as exposition in Lila’s chapter, but he had a strong and magnetic personality of his own. His past history with Kell and Rhy also begs to be explored – I want more, please!
The plot itself took a while to get going, with most of the AGOS acting as set up for Book 3. The Essen Tasch tournament is the main event in AGOS, but it did not start until the last 1/3 of the book. What happened in the first 2/3rd of this lenghthy novel, you ask? Even more set up to make it believable that our protagonist could join in the fray of the games (I don’t count this as spoilers, because I’m sure we’ve all seen those preorder cards on twitter). This is especially necessary for Lila, who went from Grey Londoner to well-versed practicitioner of the elements in the four months gap between the books. I thought she was more interesting as a non-magical human who still managed to run circles around people much more physically powerful than herself – but I think we had enough foreshadowing from ADSOM to make this turn of events inevitable.
“Everyone’s immortal until they’re not.”
That’s not to say that ADSOM was not exciting, instead – despite the plot’s relative lack of motion, the book was thoroughly entertaining. Filled with the sharp banter and engaging action scene that Victoria Schwab is known for. In the background to tournament fairs, there’s also a more sinister movement and imbalance in the magic of the world. You thought the Dane twins were creepy? You haven’t met the real antagonist of this show yet. I have no doubts Book 3 will be a bloodbath.
“Crossing worlds, killing royals, saving cities. The marks of every good courtship.”
Finally, the fangirl in me is immensely satisfied with the shippy developments in this book. Sure, my OTP did not see each other for most of the book – but their connection is more tangible than ever. The moment when they almost reunited was heart-pounding! Their personalities just play so well together, the chemistry between them is palpable. Opposites attracting is totally my weakness, and this relationship has conflicts and clash of personalities in the spades. There’s also a new ship in the horizon, one I am totally on board for.
Wow, I totally thought this would be a review filled with gushing – but apparently I had more reservations than I thought. This is what happens when you leave your reviews unwritten for an entire month, kids. Despite my misgivings, they were overshadowed by the utter joy this book brought me, so it’s still a 5 stars read all around and a contender for Top 10 of 2016!