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Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab (4/5)

26 Aug

I’m embarrassed that it took me this long to get to this book. I liked the first one in the series, but a lot of other books squeezed their way in between and it’s been more than three years since I started this series. That’s far too long. I remembered most of the first book, but there were details I’d forgotten and I think it hurt my reading of this book a little bit. I hope I can get to the third in a more timely fashion.

Cover image via Goodreads

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab

Other books by Schwab reviewed on this blog:

A Darker Shade of Magic (Shades of Magic #1)

Summary from Goodreads:

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.

The start of the book was a good mix between a review of the first and picking up right where it left off. Lila and Kell’s parting was one of the few details I’d forgotten so I struggled with that a bit before I could settle into this book. Once I did, the book picked up right away and took us on a completely different adventure and I was all in. I loved the idea of the Element Games. It seems like a logical step to take in international relations with the magic that exists in that world. I found it a little unsettling that Lila could get in so easily, but I was able to suspend my disbelief and still have fun with it. The cliffhanger ending was the only part I didn’t enjoy. I wish it had wrapped up a little cleaner before cutting to book three.

Lila and Kell are well developed and that’s part of what makes them so likable. I’m not going to claim I’m anything like either of them or that I could be friends with them, but I can understand why they are the way they are and their reactions seemed in line with their characters. The secondary characters in this one, particularly Rhy and Alucard, were great and rounded out the cast well.

Alucard was my favorite character and I hope he has a big role in the final book. His story was great and I liked how he fit into both Lila and Kell’s stories. I’d like to hear more about him and I think we will going forward.

There were elements of each character’s story that I could relate to, but the fantastical setting kept me from fully sympathizing with anyone for the whole book. Alucard wanted to be accepted by his family, Lila wanted to prove herself, and Kell wanted independence. They were all relatable in some way, but without being able to travel between parallel worlds or the ability to control water, I was a bit too distant from them.

V.E. Schwab
Image via EW

The Element Games battles were my favorite part. They reminded me of a mix between The Hunger Games, and The Triwizard Tournament but much less deadly. I liked hearing about the ways Kell and Lila came up with to use their elements and win the battles. I liked the idea of it being a spectator sport and the ways Lila twisted the games to work for her. IT was a fun structure to build the book around.

The ending was frustrating! It was a total cliffhanger and left me a bit angry. I do not like cliffhangers and to me, it’s a sign that the books should have been combined into a longer volume and a publisher nixed that to make more money. The first book wrapped up somewhat nicely with a big event but this one stopped right before it. I wonder if this was Schwab’s plan all along or if it’s due to a quick money grab. It frustrated me.

The audiobook I listened to was narrated by Kate Reading and Michael Kramer. I liked the dual-narrator as it played well with the dual-POV of the book. It can sometimes feel odd when a male narrator reads a female part and vice versa. I liked the decision to use both for this. Kramer was great. He has a way of using his low voice to add weight to Kell’s voice while giving Rhy an airy demeanor. Reading was good as well, but I think Kramer overshadowed her.

Kell has to sacrifice a lot for Rhy and his adoptive family. Eventually, he was asked to sacrifice too much. This book seemed to focus on what Kell was asked to give up, for who, and by who. The things Rhy asked of him never seemed too much though they might have been hard. Lila never asked him for anything but he’d give up almost everything for her. What the King and Queen asked of him always seemed too much. Maybe it has something to do with who asks, but also what they asked.

Writer’s Takeaway: Schwab has created a rich world in Red London. It’s parallels to Grey London and differences with White London are wonderfully illustrated. Her world-building is really commendable and I think it’s something a historical fiction writer can learn from. That’s an element of my book I could probably work on and Schwab has given a good example. It’s not just about the physical geography of the place, but the smells and sounds as well; the people who exist around the main cast and the ones that only come into play briefly. It’s the whole thing.

I enjoyed the book, though the ending frustrated me. Four out of Five Stars.

Until next time, write on.

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