A Gathering of Shadows
I ordered this book from Book Depository. This is an honest and spoiler-free review not to be read if you haven’t read the first book A Darker Shade of Magic.
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.
I first started reading A Gathering of Shadows (AGOS) in March, but shelved it because it was taking rather long to get started and I didn’t want to force myself to read it and end up resenting it. So rather than letting it gather dust on my bookshelves, I made myself a goal of reading in May after I’d caught up on the other series sequels that have come out in the last couple of months. What I most immediately learned was putting it down in March was a good idea, because this book does not truly get started about the halfway point.
Schwab spends more than half the book catching us up on Kell, Rhy, Lila, and Holland. After tethering his life to Rhy’s to save the prince’s life, Kell is struggling with his new responsibility to protect him and the blame most of Red London still places upon his shoulders, including the King and Queen who raised him. Rhy is also guilty and traumatized by the events of the first book. Both Kell and Rhy spend this book trying to prove themselves and adapt to their new bond.
Lila on the other hand after leaving Kell in the first book ends up on the ship of Kell’s mysterious enemy, the pirate–sorry, “privateer”–Alucard Emery. This is a really fun character introduced in this book with a mysterious backstory involving Kell and Rhy. He’s the person who actually ends up teaching Lila her burgeoning powers. He might be my favorite character in the series thus far, and I hate that he becomes side-lined as the story goes on.
Finally there’s Holland, who’s chapters are sprinkled conservatively throughout the book, who awakes after the events of ADSOM in Black London, the London who burned out its magic long ago and was cut off from the other worlds to protect them against its diseased land. Holland is forced to make a difficult choice in order to help his own White London flourish. He also has a plan to transfer his debt to Kell, who has no idea what’s happening in White London since his last visit.
Over half way through AGOS, we finally begin to get hints that Red London’s Essen Tasch, or the Element Games, is at the center of this second novel. Rhy’s in charge of hosting the games, Alucard returns to London to participate, and Kell and Lila disguise themselves in order to participate. Romance, action, and deception ensue.
I did not really enjoy this book. It was very readable, but I never left the book eager to return. I think the problem is that I just do not like any of the characters. For this book to be impactful, I think you need to feel connected to the characters from the first book because this second book is so character-driven, as opposed to plot-driven. Even the Element Games, which should have been more fun and interesting (as it feels very much in the vein of the Hunger Games, the Triwizard Tournament, etc.) lacked of truly high stakes that it felt purely like distraction for the characters.
To even talk plot would feel like a spoiler, because there’s so little to share and it all happens at the very end. The villains don’t have anything to do with the story, including the Element Games, and only pop up at the end to shake things up and end the book on a unjustified cliffhanger.
If you love the characters from ADSOM, I think you will enjoy this book just fine. But if you like a well-plotted story then this one is most definitely worth skipping, because this book suffers from the worst case of “middle book syndrome” I’ve ever seen. Unless the third book is out-of-this-world-amazing, I honestly think ADSOM would have been better left a stand-alone novel. Because there’s nothing in AGOS that feels like it was important to this series as a whole.
One might say this is a book about “character development” or “worldbuilding,” but I honestly think what Schwab manages in over 200 pages could just as well have been accomplished in 50 and through a better plot in order to make room for more exciting action.
I do not think I will be picking up the final book.