A Gathering of Shadows (Shades of Magic #2) by V.E. Schwab
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“Who needs magic when you look this good” – Rhy
Holy hell did this book drag for me; I feel like I read about 350 pages of prologue sandwiched by a strong start and an action-packing cliffhanger ending. This book would have been a lot stronger with at least 200 pages cut from it, because not a whole lot happens.
Four months have passed since the end of A Darker Shade of Magic and I have to say that I loved the beginning! Honestly the first 100 pages that showed what Lila and Kell have been up to since parting ways was amazing, and I was so excited that my friends who said the series picks up in this installment were right. Alas, after the first 100 pages I found myself bored and disinterested with little desire to finish. The fact that I read this entire 508-page book in one day is a testament to the fact that I a) was hoping it would get better, and b) wanted to finish it as soon as possible so it wouldn’t be an albatross around my neck. No such luck. I think the most infuriating thing is that I abandoned my TBR because I have had quite a few disappointing reads lately and wanted to read something I was sure to like. HAHAHA, Past Kaleena. Fun prank.
This is largely a character-driven plot, and unfortunately for me I found myself not really liking characters that I adored in ADSoM. The ‘not like everyone else’ trope rears its ugly head full force here with Lila, who constantly thinks, tells, and acts as if she is special and can do no wrong. In the first book I loved her strength and self-assuredness, but here she is obstinate and acts all-knowing in a world that she has been a part of for four months. She went from acting like an adult to an obstinate child that believes she knows best, and her actions are not only rash by put people in danger – things she doesn’t consider or even think she did wrong. This is so unlike the Lila from the first book and I struggled with this shift in her character. I think that a lot of this can be attributed to the narrative choice of telling instead of showing: she and everyone are constantly talking about how special she is, how unlike other girls she is, how smart she is; yet she does very little to support those claims and for me fell into the Mary Sue trope.
The events in AGoS are largely surrounding the preparation for a big Magic Games (think like the Olympics but for the magicians). Seriously it was like 300 pages of preparation for this and the games lasted for such a small part of the book that it felt anticlimactic for me.
For a universe that has four distinct Londons, I am disappointed by how 90% of this story takes place in Red London. The glimpses to the White and Black Londons where so intriguing but short-lived, and I wish more of that had played a role in this installment. Everything just feels inconsequential in the Red London storyline until the last 50 or so pages and it felt unbalanced for me.
I really appreciated the additional bits of worldbuilding that we got – especially the anecdotes from Lila about the cultural differences between Grey and Red London (yes, Grey London is our world) and I enjoyed the discussion on religious beliefs and tolerance of other beliefs. Politically I found the Element Games to be interesting but honestly I didn’t find them important to the story being told and was bored with that entire section.
I can see why people love this series, but unfortunately I am still not sold. While I adore Schwab’s flowery and descriptive writing, I found this book to be at least 200 pages longer than it needed to be and didn’t really add much to the overall story. It read like a really long introduction to the third book, which for second-in-series is kind of unforgivable in my opinion. Honestly I am so annoyed that despite the massive cliffhanger ending I am not overly motivated to pick up the 624 page finale (holy crap WHY?!). I know I will finish this eventually but it might be awhile. (Present Kaleena: It is worth it to note that I read and reviewed A Gathering of Shadows in the middle of August 2018. I have yet to pick up A Conjuring of Light to finish this series.)
You can find information about my rating criteria here.
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.