Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.
In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like 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.
But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.
One of my favourite urban fantasy novels of last year was the first book in V.E. Schwab’s Shades of Magic series, entitled A Darker Shade of Magic. I loved the world building but wasn’t too won over by the characters, however there was enough promise there for me to be able to get stuck into the second novel when I could and it didn’t disappoint, offering up a just as awesome and just as fun experience as the first. It kept me hooked from start to finish as we continued to explore the world of Kell and Lila, and offered up another intriguing mystery.
We pick up the action four months after the events of A Darker Shade of Magic and now A Gathering of Shadows starts off with things having slowly returned to normal, with a few minor differences, with Kell being wracked with guilt and Rhy now having sobered up. Red London is in full preparation for the Element Games, a sort of Olympic Games for magic in the city, meant to entertain and strengthen the ties between neighbouring countries. However, as Red London is putting on a show for the rest of the world, another, darker London is coming back to life from the shadows. Black London comes back in a big way in A Gathering of Shadows, and it’s very interesting to watch its growth from the shadows, with the stakes now higher than ever, because if Black London rises, then another London must fall in its place.
The book examines the fallout from A Darker Shade of Magic pretty well. Lila has walked away, and Kell’s guilt is something that he will have to bear on his own. But just because Lila may have walked away doesn’t mean that she has vanished for good though, because she has become the best thief of a pirate crew whose Captain happens to be an incredibly talented magician. The Captain sees the Element Games as a chance to showcase his power to the rest of the world, and as a result, it’s interesting to see the Games being used as a trigger to bring the characters back together again in a pretty effective way.
A Darker Shade of Magic may have suffered in the character department but A Gathering of Shadows does some way to improve Kell and Lila. Their characters over the course of this book have grown and become more engaging and interesting, with Kell experiencing the most dramatic of changes since the first book and it’s interesting to see how he copes with them. The many magic duels presented in this book allow for an engaging read that gives us some great imagery, and we really get a vivid idea of what such a tournament would be like. Schwab uses her skills as a writer to showcase the diversity of her world and it’s great to see the plot developing down this direction.
As usual with second acts in a trilogy, the book ends in a cliffhanger but that didn’t mind me at all because the book itself panned out so well. The interesting approach to magic really worked here and the Games provided a fantastic backdrop to the events that unfolded before us. If you were one of those people who may not have been quite won over by A Darker Shade of Magic then I urge you to give this one another look, because A Gathering of Shadows deserves it for sure.