A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V. E. Schwab
Published February 2016 by Titan Books.

Links: Goodreads.

Source: purchased (paperback).

Genre: historical fantasy.

My rating:

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.

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It’s no secret that Victoria Schwab is one of my all-time favourite authors. Becky and I even did an Author Addiction post on her and I gushed about her writing. So A Gathering of Shadows was, without a doubt, my most anticipated book of early 2016 (rivalled, perhaps, only by The Thorn of Emberlain, which is supposedly being published in July). 

I’m going to do a two-part review here, mostly because I want all of you to be able to read at least a part of it. The first part is spoiler free, but it does contain spoilers for A Darker Shade of Magic (you can read my review for the first part). The second part – clearly marked – contains spoilers because I want to discuss some specific plot points with those who have already finished it (I guess a lot of you have, anyway). I was SO SCARED of reading a spoiler myself, I nearly stopped following some people and thought about blocking some hashtags (this is why I was so eager to read the book as soon as possible). But I made it! And I’d never spoil things for you, but you have to promise me you won’t read the second part of the review if you haven’t read AGOS yet, okay? 

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THE SPOILER-FREE PART

Victoria Schwab has managed to keep me on my toes for the entire novel. It’s rare that a book entirely lives up to its hype (at least for me), but she made it work. I re-read A Darker Shade of Magic prior to starting the sequel, which was a good idea as it put me in just the right mood. Her style is still fantastic and she’s a master (mistress?) of pacing – the tempo of the story is just great and makes it really hard to put the book down. 

The story picks up four months after Lila left London – and Kell. She has almost fulfilled her goal of becoming a pirate captain and is sailing the seas with a cool crew, already building a reputation of her own. She’s the Lila we know and love – sharp, guarded, and lethal – but she’s learned some new skills and is trying to figure out whether belonging to a crew is a good thing or a hindrance.

Kell has twined his life with Rhy’s when he saved his brother from dying. But neither of them knew they would be feeling each other’s pain and other feelings, too, not just sharing a life force. The encounter with the dark magic has left him with a restless energy that seems to be searching for a way out – and then Rhy provides him with a perfect solution (which turns out to be less than perfect, of course). 

I liked the addition of new characters though I did wish for more women in the main action. The scope of the world also changes, widening from the four Londons to encompass more of Arnes (the country of which Red London is the capital). I liked reading about that, it’s always good to see more of the world.

All in all, this was a fantastic second part of the trilogy and I can’t wait for the final instalment. I can’t believe we’ll have to wait for a year! 

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HERE BE SERIOUS SPOILERS

So. You didn’t think I’d write all that praise without pointing out what bugged me, did you? :) If you’ve read the book, I’d love to hear your take on these issues – they weren’t deal breakers for me, not at all, the book is still definitely a 5-star/heart read for me, but they were things that popped up when I was reading.

First of all: did the tournament really move the plot forward? Half the book (or so it seems) is about the Element Games and while it was good to give both Kell and Lila a playground on which they could test their abilities (Lila especially), I found that it didn’t really bring anything to the overall plot of the series. Look, it was great to watch the duels – but the only plot that really moves forward is the White London parts, which were possibly the least interesting (because there was no Kell or Lila or Rhy). 

This brings me to my second point: Lila and the women of the world. I know (IknowIknowIknow) she’s all about being alone and independent and that this fact is both her greatest strength and greatest weakness, but I wish there were more important female characters in the story. Okay, so Ojka looks like she might get a larger part in book 3 but she’s essentially a puppet, then there’s Calla, the seamstress who sees too much and knows not to comment, and the Queen, who doesn’t have a really big role at all. I’d hoped Kisimyr, at least, would be a more important player. I would love to have found out more about her. But none of these women touch Kell and Lila’s story (except Ojka, but we know she’s Holland’s tool). 

But wow, that ending! As Victoria wrote in the acknowledgments, she hasn’t finished a novel on a cliffhanger yet, but now she definitely made up for that. I knew something horrible was going to happen even without the “catastrophe” chapter title, but this really makes me wonder how they’ll be able to defeat that murderous shadow monster. What are you planning, Victoria?! Oh, it’ll be agony to wait for a year for the final part. 

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So, I’d love to hear your thoughts – whether you’ve already finished this part or not. 

Did the book meet your expectations? Were they crazy high?

Tell me all! :)

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  • Maraia

    My expectations were so high, and I wasn’t disappointed at all!

    **SPOILERS**

    I love both the ships – I think my favorite part was when Kell heard that he had just missed Lila and went tearing out of the shop. *swoons* Talk about a slow burn romance. The hardest part to read was when Kell was in prison and the King and Queen were being awful to him. That just about broke my heart.

    I hadn’t really thought about the lack of female characters, in part because Lila is so awesome, but you’re not wrong. I was also hoping Kisimyr would play a bigger role.

    I definitely agree with you that the plot didn’t advance much in this book. I’m not complaining, because I love the characters and therefore loved every minute of it, but very little progress was actually made between the end of the first book and the end of this one. I can see why that would bother some people.

    My only complaint, really, is that it was too short. Those 500 pages flew by. I think I’m even more nervous about the last book now, because I know I’m going to be left wanting more.

    • Ohhhh Kell and Lila are wonderful! :) Both together and apart. Yeah, slow burn romances are the best when they finally explode when the couple can’t keep their hands off each other anymore. I also liked Rhy and Alucard’s relationship, because their history was so clearly unresolved and they just jumped right back in (while they also had some strong words about that).

      And yes, that prison scene was awful, it was painful to read, I wanted to hug Kell and hold him – but then he’s got Rhy and Lila rooting for him now. I really admire loyal characters.

      Yeah, I’m not worried about the plot of the series, I’m sure Schwab will treat us to a fantastic finale, but I noticed this one didn’t really move forward much. But it was fun to read – definitely – and I agree, it was too short. I read it in two or three days despite having very little time. I just wish we didn’t have to wait for a whole year to get the last part.

      • Maraia

        Agreed – they’re wonderful together and apart. :D Yes! I ship Rhy and Alucard as well, despite their rocky history. I really want Rhy to be happy.

        I can’t wait for Lila to kick ass in the next book. I’m hoping we get an awesome rescue scene. I admire loyal characters, too. (It’s why I always end up in Hufflepuff. xD)

        • Heeey, I’m plenty loyal and I’m a Gryffindor! :D

  • I JUST FINISHED READING IT TOO. *flails wildly* AND THAT CLIFFHANGER WAS DECIDEDLY NOT OKAY. I could probably…I don’t know: SHRIEK OR SOMETHING?!?! VE Schwab definitely made it a first (killer XD) cliffhanger omg. And I do definitely agree with a lot of the negatives you pointed out. *nods* Although it’s a 5-star read for me too, I was surprised that it went with the “games” sort of theme because that seems overdone and really only got Lila to learn to be more magical and Kell to be moody constructively while hitting people. (I love Kell. <3) I think this book definitely was about the characters *nods* Although some more epic female characters would've been nice? i kind of hoped Cora would be this surprisingly awesome person. But she was just like a NAME and not even a character really? Maybe later on? (I found it hysterical how Kell and Rhy were running from her. CHILDREN. ALL OF THEM. XDXD)

    • Haha, yeah, Kell needed that outlet badly. I think he might be one of my new favourite characters (I sort of collect orphans on this list, like Locke from The Lies of Locke Lamora, and Kvothe from The Name of the Wind – those two series are absolutely brilliant if you’re looking for more fantasy, by the way).

      The games took a lot of attention, that’s true – I mean, I liked seeing the magic and the fights and all, but I wished the games themselves had more PURPOSE for the overall plot – but they just didn’t. Eh. I’m sure Schwab will do a marvellous job of finishing the series in the last book.

      And yeah, maybe we’ll get to see more characters from far-away lands – I’d definitely like that.

      Thanks for stopping by, Cait! :) I love that you take time to comment back, I know it can’t be easy with the number of comments you get on your posts.

  • Okay okay, I am navigating dangerous territory here since I literally just started the audiobook of this and I am seeing spoiler tags everywhere in the post and in comments :P The glimpse of your 5 star rating is good enough for me though, and I’m excited!

    • Ahh GO AWAY before you spoil yourself! :D (Kidding, but you’ve been warned.) I hope you’re enjoying your audiobook and we’ll discuss this one when you write your review! :)

  • I completely agree with you in your “spoiler” points. Yes, this book felt like a sophomore installment because the larger plot didn’t really move too much forward, but I give major props to Schwab because despite this, it was still pretty darn good. I also was looking forward to more female characters. At first I thought Kisimyr Vasrin would play a bigger role, but ended up being disappointed. Ojka may have more to offer in the next book, but I found myself kind of missing Astrid Dane which is a really strange feeling. Love the review, Kaja!

    • Haha, yeah, Astrid Dane was a great character, though I wasn’t sad to see her go. But it would have been nice to have a serious female antagonist in this one, too. We’ll see how things go in Book 3 – I’m sure Scwab will wrap things up spectacularly.

  • Ahhh okay, firstly: a big “thank you” to everyone for marking spoilers in the comments because I was able to shield my eyes! Kaja, I can’t read this review because I still haven’t read ADSoM (I knoooow, so bad!) but I just ordered a copy so I’m going to be joining all of you in jubilant celebration soon. So glad this one lived up to your expectations, especially since they were so high! :)

    • Haha, yeah, we marked all the spoilers (I hope) because I think they’re the work of Satan, as you probably know by now, and I’d never intentionally ruin a reading experience for someone.

      Ooh, I’m glad you succumbed to the hype, though I do hope the book(s) meet your expectations. I know I gush about Schwab’s work constantly, she’s wonderful, but then I worry about what new readers might think of her. Eh, the ever-lasting problem of over-hyped books… Enjoy the first part and report back when you’ve finished!! :)