‘A Gathering Of Shadows’ is the second book in the ‘Shades Of Magic’ series, so if you haven’t read the first book, ‘A Darker Shade Of Magic’, read that one first as this one follows directly on from it.
Four months after the conclusion of ‘A Darker Shade Of Magic’, Kell is restless. The bond that ties his life to Rhy’s is giving them both strange dreams and making them restless. Both Kell and Rhy can feel each other’s pain and emotion, which is putting even more strain on their intense brotherly relationship.
To add to this, the Element Games or the Essen Tasch, as they are called in Arnesian the language of Red London, are drawing closer. They are an international magic competition that brings together the three main empires of that world, in order to provide a source of entertainment and keep political relationships peaceful.
Meanwhile, Lila has found her way to sea and met Alucard Emery, a pirate captain with possibly as complicated a past and as many secrets as she has. She has started to learn magic and is drawn back to Red London by the promise of the magic of the Essen Tasch and the opportunity to see Kell again.
In other worlds, the other Londons are stirring. Magic is awakening in Grey London. White London is in more magical turmoil than ever after the death of the Dane Twins and Black London may not be as sealed off as Red London might like to believe. Kell sent Holland off to Black London on the assumption that he would never return, but assumptions are not wise when magic is involved.
Once again, V.E Schwab does a spectacular job of painting a world full of magic and intrigue. The world-building is even more impressive in this book, with the Essen Tasch providing a wealth opportunity for her to explore the magic system she created in the first book. The build-up to the Essen Tasch and the games itself are crafted in a beautiful manner, that is enthralling to read.
The languages were further developed in a way that again enriched the world, by firmly establishing a sense of place that is highly magical and other worldly. As far as world-building is concerned, I was quite happily lost in the world she created.
Likewise, the pirate aspect of the story was well-crafted. I think it added an extra layer of excitement as well as bringing in some of the vicious action we are accustomed to from ‘A Darker Shade Of Magic’. It also really helped to develop Lila as a character, life at sea is Lila’s dream, so it’s interesting to see how that plays out as a reality for her.
Which brings us to the subject of characterisation. Kell and Rhy are very well developed. The magical bond between them, coupled with the fact that they have to hide feeling each other’s pain, intensifies their relationship and increases the emotional stakes. Nevertheless, there still remains the fairly comical dynamic of brotherly banter between the two.
As the majority of the book is devoted to emotional conflict with the build-up of the Essen Tasch, with the fate of the other worlds slowly brewing in the background, we receive a great deal more emotional insight in to the two characters, which I found highly enjoyable.
Similarly, the relationship between Kell and Lila is well-developed. They spend fairly limited time together, instead spending most of their time wondering what the other is doing. Yet, I found that to be effective, as it makes their time together more powerful. What is interesting with Lila and Kell, where most male female duos would fall in love and end up together, they do not do this. There are some occasional romantic moments between them but they don’t establish a relationship in the traditional way because it is way too complicated for them to do that in their situation.
Unlike most authors, Schwab doesn’t somehow invent circumstances that mean it is somehow possible for them physically or emotionally, to be together in a romantic relationship. Instead, she deeply explores the complicated bond that circumstance has forged between the two characters. This is a rarity in fiction and something I think should be celebrated because of how honest it is.
While I cannot disclose too much of what goes on with Holland as it would spoil the plot, what I will say is it is well thought out and serves to thoroughly blur the lines between good and evil in a fascinating way.
The new characters were also enthralling. The magicians of the Essen Tasch were a dazzling addition to the cast, embodying and wielding the magic system in a thoroughly entertaining manner. Likewise, the pirates that Lila meets at sea, Alucard Emery and his crew, are a fierce addition to the cast, adding a healthy amount of adventure and fierceness to the story.
There was considerably less physical conflict in this book, with emotional conflict being at the forefront of everything. The book is very much taken over by the excitement of a magical tournament. This is a concept which would ordinarily be concerning, as one would assume that lack of conflict in the physical sense may lead to the book becoming boring.
However, this was not the case, I felt Schwab pulled it off so well, that it was more engaging than if there had been more physical conflict. Her characterisation, paired with the emotional conflict, made the book exciting and highly engaging, to the extent that I struggle to think of things to criticise.
The only slight issue with this book is that it ends on a massive cliff-hanger. I am actually of the opinion that the cliff-hanger is the right thing to do for this book creatively, however as I have only just read this book now that the third has been released, I’ve been able to go straight in to reading the final book in the trilogy. I have not had to wait a year as many readers who read this book at the time of release have.
I feel that, it is an extremely large thing to leave unanswered over the space of a year, yet the state of writing and publishing is such that that is how long it takes to produce the next book.
Given that Schwab does apologise for the cliff-hanger in the acknowledgements, I believe it is something she put a great deal of thought in to. Therefore, while I think it is something that would have been painful for readers before the release of the third book, I think it is something that can be enjoyed, as it does serve the book and the series at large very well creatively.
Overall, I would highly recommend this book, if you enjoyed the first one, this one is even better. It builds on the worlds, characters and stories began in the first one to expand in to what I believe to be an amazing trilogy and a gem of innovation in the fantasy genre.
(pub: TOR/Forge, 2016. 509 page small hardback. Price: $25.99 (US), $29.99 (CAN). ISBN: 978-0-7653-7647-3)