* This review may contain spoilers for the previous book, A Darker Shade of Magic.
By V.E. Schwab
Publisher: Tor Books
To Sum It Up: With Lila off realizing her dreams of adventure and maybe a little piracy on the high seas, Kell lives practically confined to Red London. Once revered by its citizens, he’s now regarded with suspicion and even fear following the terror unleashed by the Dane twins of White London that has forever magically entwined the lives of Kell and his brother, Prince Rhy. Hoping to lift his brother’s spirits, Rhy hatches an insane scheme for the upcoming and highly anticipated Element Games, an event that also draws the attention of a certain sassy thief/pirate with a crazy plan of her own for the games.
Review: With a single book, last year’s superb A Darker Shade of Magic, Victoria Schwab instantly became one of my favorite authors thanks to her superlative storytelling talents. The best fantasy novels carry you away to other worlds so immersive and real, you don’t want to return to your own. It was with much anticipation that I returned to Schwab’s alternate Londons, and once again, the trip was an absolute blast.
When we last left off, Kell and Lila had saved Red London from the evil, evil Dane twins of White London. While Lila has sailed away on board the Night Spire to chase her piratey dreams, Kell finds himself living under the constant watchful eye of the royal guards and the mistrustful eye of most Arnesians. Even Kell’s adoptive parents, King Maxim and Queen Emira, have distanced themselves from him. The relationship between Kell and his brother, Prince Rhy, is also tested, with both brothers feeling guilty over the events that led to Rhy being brought back to life with dark magic and their lives tethered to each other. Unlike their parents, however, Rhy continues to treat Kell like his blood brother, and of course Kell would still do anything for Rhy. It’s not all gloom and doom between them, either; their snarky exchanges made me chuckle quite often.
As for Miss Delilah Bard, she’s found a place for her sassy self among the crew of the Night Spire, captained by the enigmatic Alucard “I’m a Privateer Not a Pirate” Emery. Alucard is a fascinating new addition to the series and just as cagey as Lila when it comes to revealing anything personal, though both try to coax backstories out of each other. In A Gathering of Shadows, Lila proves that she truly is suited to a pirate’s life and backs up every bit of the Bard bravado. Oh, she still swaggers like hell and gets up to some seriously crazy hijinks, even for Lila, but I have to give her credit for living every second like it’s her last. Which it very well could be when you look back at some of Lila’s previous escapades.
Schwab’s world-building in A Darker Shade of Magic was absolutely brilliant, and she works her magic again here. I love how the Arnesian language is sprinkled throughout and the meanings of words and phrases always made clear by showing instead of telling. The Essen Tasch (Element Games) brings guests from other empires to Red London, giving us a more expanded view of this world. The matches between the competitors in the games are riveting, not just because of all of the action but also because you feel like you’re actually there in the arena. Plus, it’s elemental magic that the entrants wield here. In between reading A Darker Shade of Magic and this, I binge watched Avatar: The Last Airbender, and let’s just say that I have a newfound appreciation for elemental magic, which is put on spectacular display during the Element Games.
Although the majority of A Gathering of Shadows follows Kell and Lila and all of the pomp surrounding the games, we also check in from time to time on a developing story line that becomes extremely significant by the end of the book. I simultaneously love it for its ingenuity and cringe at it because of what ensues. “Cringe” is probably an understatement; “scream” would be more accurate.
And now it’s back to the torture known as Waiting for the Next Book. In the meantime, I’ll replay my favorite moments from this one in my mind: the ones that made me swoon, the ones that gave me the chills, and the ones that awed me because they were written so brilliantly (i.e. ALL OF THEM).
All in All: This has quickly become one of my favorite series, which means that I’m pushing it hard to anyone who hasn’t read it. A Gathering of Shadows is a mighty sequel that astounds in every aspect: the flawed characters you love because they’re not perfect, the fantastic world, the witty banter, and the beautiful prose. And now I must go cope with this severe book hangover.