A Gathering of Shadows had everything I loved about A Darker Shade of Magic in it: amazing world building, strong and complex characters, incredible writing, the makings of a great plot. It had everything you’d expect a good book to have except one crucial thing: pacing.
The novel picks up a few months after its predecessor, with Lila embarking on her life as a pirate, abandoning Kell with the consequences of White London’s failed takeover and his new, stronger ties to his brother. But while Kell is dealing with Rhy’s temper, the king and queen’s distrust and his people’s scorn, Lila is learning the impossible: magic. When Rhy decides to host a magic tournament that spans empires, neither magician can stay away.
“Impossibility is a thing that begs to be disproven”
There are no cracks in VE Schwab’s world building. It’s complete: I understood each character, their needs, their past, their goals and ambitions. But in a sequel, where we have already met most of the characters and their fantasy setting in a previous novel, do we really need most of the book to be world building? Did we need pages and pages about Lila’s pirate life, following her as she docks in ports and steals ships, and ponders her past, the tournament and her return to London? When most of the important bits of her pirate life are covered in flash backs during the tournament itself? Then there were pages and pages of Kell feeling rejected, Rhy feeling reckless, the citizens prying and the king and queens hostility. I’m not saying it didn’t add to the story and wasn’t needed, I’m just saying it could have been summed up a little quicker.
The plot, and the tournament, only really start three hundred pages in, which made most of the story feel a little, well, pointless. It was well written and easy to read but just added very little to the actual plot. Most of the book felt like filler until Schwab could take us to the ending she had planned and start her next book. Sadly what really let this book down was it’s pacing.
“Everyone’s immortal until they’re not.”
Speaking of, I’m still not sure how I feel about the ending. Although it took a while to get started the plot was pretty fantastic: everyone’s sneaking about in a magic tournament, Kell is on the verge of doing something reckless while Lila is constantly doing something reckless. The world is teetering on the edge of the disaster and all the while White London is plotting it’s uprising. It’s exciting and enthralling and it just suddenly stops. There’s no big, final fight (although many fights are dotted throughout the novel), no self contained plot, the entire novel is build up for the third one. It’s a unique approach and I still don’t know how I feel about it. Although one thing is for sure: after that cliff hanger ending I will definitely be picking up the next one soon.
VE Schwab’s writing is like poetry. Some parts are so simple and engrossing while others are descriptive and captivating in a way that makes even the simplest of scenes seem engaging. Honestly, her writing is what makes the three hundred pages of world building before the tournament manageable. It doesn’t feel tedious to read at all, she’s clearly very skilled and her characters are so unique, so flawed, that they leap of the page at you.
“The kiss was Lila pressed into a single gesture. Her brazen pride and her stubborn resolve, her recklessness and her daring and her hunger for freedom. It was all those things, and it took Kell’s breath away.“
Then there’s the characters. The characters in this novel are all so unique and passionate that they bring the story to life. From Lila’s abrasive need to escape the mundane to Kell’s desperate want for freedom, to Rhy’s want of his own feelings, the characters and their relationships are what make this novel so fantastic. They lead the reader through the turmoil of the story, their thoughts so intimately written that’s it’s easy to be caught by their distress and triumphs. Spending three hundred odd pages with just these three characters’ turmoil and anguish during the build up to the tournament doesn’t progress the plot much but it does really draw the reader into their world, relationships and their personal struggles, making the reader really care about the strife they go through.
Oh yes, your relationship with Miss Bard is positively ordinary.”
“Crossing worlds, killing royals, saving cities. The marks of every good courtship”
Overall I did enjoy A Gathering of Shadows. I’d recommend it and enjoyed it as a sequel, but can’t give it the five stars I gave A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s pacing let’s it down and theres just too much filler for me. Although after that ending I will definitely be reading A Conjuring of Light soon.