It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.
Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as 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.
And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.
I loved A Darker Shade of Magic so much that I didn’t even bother reading the synopsis of this book before diving back into Kell’s world of multiple Londons. I was just so sure I’d love this too. Plus, I want to go into this completely blind and just relish everything as the story unfolds. But I’ll be completely honest—the first half of this book felt like a filler and I found myself struggling with that part. It was so slow in the beginning and the plot doesn’t seem to have a clear direction so I was kind of just wondering where the story was heading. But Sanct! The second half of this book? It. Was. Glorious! Everything that I loved in A Darker Shade of Magic immerged and the book started to demand my full attention. I didn’t have enough will power to put it down after that.
Perhaps power had to be tended, like Tieren said, but not all things grew in gardens.
Plenty of plants grew wild.
A Gathering of Shadows picks off four months after Kell and Lila parted ways in the first book. Lila was aboard a ship, living her dreams of having adventures and being a pirate. We’re immediately introduced to a whole bunch of new characters as Lila made “friends” with the ship’s crew including its Captain, Alucard Emery, who later became Lila’s teacher. Kell and Rhy were both having a hard time adjusting to their situation. Kell, who is now sharing his life with Rhy, has become someone who walks on eggshells for fear of hurting his brother. He had long stopped smuggling things from other Londons but he’s still plagued with guilt about the lives lost during the Black Night. And then there’s the sting of the crown’s distrust. All of that weight in his shoulders made him long to escape, go somewhere else, and just live a life of his own. Rhy on the other hand busied himself with the preparation of the annual Essen Tasch—an Elements Game meant to strengthen the peaceful relationship between Red London’s neighboring kingdoms—to keep his nightmares at bay. There were huge changes to his character in this book as he became more than just the cheerful crowned prince we used to know. Meanwhile, color is coming back in White London. It’s magic begun to flourish but with a dangerous cost.
“Politics is a dance until the moment it becomes a war. And we control the music.”
The best part of this book was the Essen Tasch. Not only because most of the holy shit moments happened during the game but also because it was such a clever way of introducing us to a lot of powerful new characters. Schwab is a warrior when it comes to vivid descriptions and here she was very descriptive with the fighting scenes that it feels like it’s happening right in front of my eyes. All that while building tension and adding more layers to her characters who have illegally gotten themselves into the game!
She bent most of the rules. She broke the rest.
This book was longer than its predecessor but I didn’t get a lot of Kell in it. It has more of Lila and her amazing growth from a cutpurse to a powerful magician. She remains a force to be reckoned with in this book. We knew Lila as the stubborn thief who constantly runs away from anyone who started to care for her but I have a feeling that that’s going to change. I really love that she chose to seek the adventures she’d been dreaming of instead of staying with Kell in Red London. Following her, we get a wider view of what the rest of Schwab’s world looks like.
“My father was a vulture. My mother was a magpie. My oldest brother is a crow. My sister, a sparrow. I have never really been a bird.”
My favorite character in this book would be Alucard Emery. I’ve always taken a liking to characters who posses a glorious set of wits. Alucard is mischievous and funny but at the same time powerful and dangerous. And he’s got a colorful past and a lot of secrets that’s still on the process of unraveling. I truly hope he gets his POV in the next book because I think there’s still a lot to know about him.
“Oh yes, your relationship with Miss Bard is positively ordinary.”
“Crossing worlds, killing royals, saving cities. The marks of every good courtship.”
As for the romance it was done so well. It’s rare to see romance in Schwab’s books but when she decides to have one it’s something to root for. The ships were slowly yet sweetly developed. Yes, there were a number of ships and I’m aboard them all! I’m so down for Kell and Lila. They weren’t even together for most part of the book. But whether as individual characters or as a couple, they both have their own adorable traits that I love. And I just constantly wished for them to be happy. Then there’s Rhy and Alucard! Sanct! What a pair, those two! Both witty, and hilarious, and charming, and together they’re such a treat.
“Strength and weakness are tangled things,” the Aven Essen had said. “They look so much alike, we often confuse them, the way we confuse magic and power.”
I don’t know if I should thank Schwab or sulk in the corner for that cruel ending, because it was one of my favorite parts in the book but also it was sad. It wasn’t enough that Kell is hurting more than anyone does in this book. It wasn’t enough that he’s haunted by guilt, deemed untrustworthy, and left feeling caged and restricted. No! We have to see him betrayed and leave him screaming in pain and no part of me is okay with that! What have you done to my precious baby, Schwab?
I admit, this series isn’t in my all time favorites list yet but it’s getting there. And fast. I would happily recommend this to fans of magic, (good magic, blood magic, holy shit magic) those who likes character driven books, (because the characterization in this one is faultless) and those who wants remarkable world-building. And yes, to those who love Schwab and ruthless endings.
Check out my review on A Darker Shade of Magic here.