Monday, December 9, 2019

A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by VE Schwab

I'm so glad I've discovered VE Schwab. Her writing has been hitting the mark for me, and for once I'm ahead of the film industry in reading the books way before this hits screens. (At time of writing, A Darker Shade of Magic was under development.)

The concept in Schwab's Shades of Magic books is simple: London exists in multiple planes. Black London was destroyed by a cankerous magic. Grey London's magic has mostly leaked away (this is our world, during Victorian times, so far as I can tell). In White London, magic is a carefully hoarded resource – it's scarce and folks who live here are power mad. Red London, despite the issues faced in that particular world, has the best of everything. And this is the London of Kell, our antari (wizard).

We join Kell in book two, the aptly named A Gathering of Shadows, where he and Lila Bard have been separated for a while. He has been limited to London, pretty much kept under house arrest thanks to his shenanigans in book 1. Lila has indulged her ambition to be a pirate. Yet their vastly divergent paths will cross soon enough as the the equivalent of a magical Olympic Games is about to take place in Red London. Yet while the characters involve themselves in the seemingly frivolous games, older enemies are stirring off-stage, and it won't be long before they reach from beyond to upset things.

To a degree, A Gathering of Shadows does suffer middle-book syndrome, as in it ties up loose ends left in book 1 and does a fair amount of setup for what follows in book 3, and there's not a helluva lot of new action apart from Lila discovering what makes her special. I'm glad I've read this trilogy long after it was first published so I don't have to wait for book 3, because believe me, if you're invested in Lila and Kell's story, you're going to go out and buy book 3 the moment you're done with book 2. Massive cliff hanger. I won't spoil.

What I like about book 2 is that we see a little more of the world beyond Red London's borders. We get a glimpse into the complicated relationship Kell shares with Rhy and his adoptive family. To a degree it's a little of a coming-of-age story, because Kell is struggling to establish an identity for himself beyond merely being the adopted son of a king. A theme of freedom is riffed on, and what it means to different characters.

There aren't any massive explosions and riveting plot twists here. You kinda see the slowly oncoming Event a long time before it blooms. I suspect that this book is very much the connective tissue between 1 and 3 rather than one that can stand alone. Overall, a solid read, and I'm invested in what happens next.

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