“You can kill people, but you cannot kill magic.” – V.E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows (p. 197)
A Gathering of Shadows, released on February 23rd, 2016, is the second book in V.E. Schwab’s wildly popular A Darker Shade of Magic series (you can find my review for A Darker Shade of Magic here). Picking up some months after the concluding events of A Darker Shade of Magic, V.E. Schwab dives right back into the action, illustrtaing how Lila, Kell and Rhy’s lives have moved forward, and how the ongoing events are shaping their lives.
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-and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall…
I loved this book. A Gathering of Shadows was everything I wanted from a sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, and so much more. There was plenty of swash-buckling, badass Lila, plenty of brooding Kell and lighthearted Rhy, and there was a new dynamic of brotherly love between the two Maresh boys, and even some hot, smoldering romance between Lila and Kell. V.E. Schwab outdid herself on this one, and its no surprise that fans of the series are impatiently awaiting A Conjuring of Light (set to release on February 21st, 2017).
A Gathering of Shadows opens with Lila at sea, serving as a thief on Alucard’s ship – not quite a pirate ship, as she had hoped, but a privateer is close enough. She is practicing magic, but has turned her back on Kell and Red London for several months, in favour of an adventure. For his part, Kell is struggling to adapt to a new sense of distrust targeted at him, as well as with his new connection to Rhy, forged when he saved the prince’s life. Rhy is struggling too, his normal lighthearted nature shadowed by his guilt and pain regarding the events at the conclusion of A Darker Shade of Magic. Soon though, Lila and Alucard are sailing for Red London, while Kell and Rhy prepare for a magical competition between nations (not necessarily unlike the Olympics, although perhaps more politically charged). Meanwhile, things are stirring in White London, unbeknownst to Kell, who has both avoided, and been directed away from, travelling to the dying London. Once again, Schwab demonstrated her prowess as an author here, weaving an intricate plot, seemingly with ease. The characters’ individual paths seamlessly intertwine with one another’s, as well as with the overarching plot.
“I do not know why you two are circling each other like stars. It is not my cosmic dance. But I do know that you come asking after one another, when only a few strides and a handful of stars divide you.” – Calla (V.E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows).
The relationship building/development in this book was perhaps my favourite of the whole book. Not only did Schwab continue developing the existing relationship between Kell, Rhy and Lila, she also flawless introduced new relationships (such as those with Alucard), and took old relationships in a new directions (such as the one between Kell and the King).
- One of my favourite relationships in A Gathering of Shadows was the brotherly bond between Rhy and Kell. While they spent most of A Darker Shade of Magic separated, they spend a large portion of A Gathering of Shadows interacting. They’re dialogue and misadventures are so very human, and so very endearing, it draws the reader right in to the story. In addition, their interactions provide lots of opportunities for more character development.
- Kell and Lila’s complex dance with one another (which Calla, the shop owner, calls a “cosmic dance”) is an ongoing frustration to most readers, since it is obvious to everyone but the two of them that they’re perfect for one another. They spend a lot of time apart in this book, but the moments when they are together, whether they’re fighting, dancing or sneaking into empty corridors, are charged with tension (the good kind). Honestly, even Rhy seems to be struggling not to lock them in a room together (not that it would hold Lila Bard for long).
- Rhy gets his own proper romance (if you can call it that) in A Gathering of Shadows, in the form of an attractive, swaggering privateer by the name of Alucard. Its evident that Alucard, Rhy and Kell have a complicated, difficult past (Schwab briefly explores this, highlighting heartbreak and betrayal), but that doesn’t seem to stop Rhy from letting Alucard muss up his hair (literally), despite Kell’s obvious objections. The two seem like a perfect match for one another, and Alucard’s protectiveness and heartfelt care for Rhy is nearly heartbreaking.
- While relationships were forged and built in A Gathering of Shadows, they were also torn down. In particular, Kell’s relationship with the King and Queen of Red London, already strained, deteriorated quickly under their blame and oppression. They are understandably upset and distrusting; Kell did accidentally bring a dangerous magic into their world, all but killing their only natural son (Rhy) in the process. However, the way they, and the King in particular, treat Kell, is degarding, sometimes inhuman, and downright cruel. Their lack of compassion, and Kell’s own raging grief and guilt, quickly tear their tenuous relationship apart.
Another aspect of A Gathering of Shadows which was both enjoyable and well-done was Schwab’s inclusion and portrayal of different sexualities. The portrayal of LGBTQ2+ relationships and characters is quickly becoming more common and more accepted in literature, but few portrayals are well-done, and even fewer are believable. Yet Lila, Alucard and Rhy fit flawlessly in the story, without feeling out of place or like token pieces. Red London is a conservative, mostly traditional society, yet it’s citizens do not frown upon different sexualities, simply accepting them as a way of life. Schwab has acknowledged that Lila is gender fluid, meaning that she does not identify herself as having a particular gender. This fits flawlessly with her character, and feels utterly natural in the plot. In addition, Rhy has already been identified as bisexual, therefore his relationship with Alucard was not unexpected, and the chemistry that Schwab created between the two felt completely in place with the rest of the story, despite Red London’s more traditional views of sexuality (because really, who is going to tell the Crown Prince no?). This portrayal was very satisfying, and I felt that it does justice to the LGBTQ+ community.
In conclusion, A Gathering of Shadows was a thoroughly satisfying sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic. While is wasn’t quite as action packed as its predecessor, the gathering threat in White London, and the bits of action interspersed throughout the plot were more than enough to keep the reader engaged. And honestly, the shining stars of this novel were the characters and their relationships. The utter humanity of Kell, Lila and Rhy’s struggles in A Gathering of Shadows made this book as fantastic as it was, and I can’t wait for A Conjuring of Light! (4.5/5)