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

(Last Updated On: December 9, 2018)

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“Who needs magic when you look this good” – Rhy

Holy hell did this book drag for meI 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.


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  1. Ally Writes Things

    December 9, 2018 at 9:21 AM

    omg I had almost an exactly the same experience with this!!!

    I thought the beginning was amazing, but both Lila and Kell fall into the tropes they managed to avoid in the first one. Lila becomes ~not like other girls~ and Kell becomes the broody, moody, mysterious guy. I mainly liked the first one because both characters had the good aspects of those tropes with none of the bad ones, but I though in this one they both feel deep into the tropes.

    It also bothered me how Lila just *happened* to win the competition, despite not having any formal training, against other magicians who have had training and have been using magic their whole lives. It just seemed so unbelievable to me, and kind of insulting to the magic system? Idk I would’ve enjoyed it more if she maybe made it to the second round, then was beaten by a more talented magician, and realizes “huh, this magic thing actually requires talent, not just luck and natural abilities. Maybe I should find some formal training and respect those who have trained their whole lives.” I feel like that would’ve been such a better arc for her.

    Anyway, sorry for the mini rant! Great review!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:34 AM

      THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR YOUR RANT! This comment honestly makes my experience feel so valid??? You nailed exactly what bothered me about this installment and how it different character-wise from the first book. It honestly still makes me so mad to think about it, and I read this book in AUGUST.

      The thing that is so weird to me is that I love character-driven stories and flowery narratives, but with this one it just bothered me. I haven’t read ACoL yet, but based on my experience so far this should have been a duology.

      1. Ally Writes Things

        December 10, 2018 at 9:58 AM

        My biggest issue with ACoL was that it was too long. Like, it was a great ending to the trilogy but it was about 200 pages too long with a lot of unnecessary layers. The last two could probably have been condensed into one book for sure

        1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

          December 11, 2018 at 7:17 AM

          Ugh yea, the fact it is like 600 pages long is the main reason I still haven’t read it. I am glad it is a good ending, even if a bit too long. At least I know to expect a bit of a drag too… maybe this time I won’t be so pissed off about it.

  2. Alyssa Cohen

    December 9, 2018 at 9:27 AM

    I didn’t really love the first book in this series, and after reading your review, it’s hard to say if I will continue the series or not. I had such high hopes for this trilogy, but I really don’t know where I’m going to get the motivation to finish these books!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:36 AM

      I know what you mean. I struggled really REALLY hard to get into book 1 (and almost DNF’d it) but wound up really enjoying it.If you don’t continue with the series, at least book one reads as a standalone. I can tell you that Vicious by Schwab is amazing and recommend that book by her!

  3. thewolfandbooks

    December 9, 2018 at 9:28 AM

    Wow! Solid review! I’ve heard quite a few people say that they felt A Gathering of Shadows drags on too much. I feel like A Darker Shade of Magic can exist just find as a standalone. I do own the entire series, so maybe I will read the rest eventually but not anytime soon. I hope the spin-off series is more action-driven then. Anyway, this was such a well-thought out review. Thank you so much for sharing! xo

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:37 AM

      Thank you so much! I agree, A Darker Shade of Magic definitely can be read as a standalone and honestly part of me wishes that I hadn’t gotten overly excited and bought the rest of the series. I am looking forward to those comics though; I love this world and can’t get enough of it! I do want to finish the series sooner or later, but need my anger to dwindle a bit more. Hehe.

  4. Liam

    December 9, 2018 at 9:46 AM

    Even though I mostly disagree with your rating here (the world would be boring if we all agreed!) this is a really solid and well-presented review. To be honest, a large part of why I loved this series is because of the audiobook narration so it is entirely possible that I just ignored the mundane parts as I was happy listening to the narrators so I might have to re-think my own rating should I re-read the series!

    I would recommend leaving it a fair while before finishing the trilogy going from what you have said here as it is kind of more of the same in that there is a looooooooooooot of ‘prologue’ to the actual action (but once the final sequence kicks it it all becomes worth it in my opinion).

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:40 AM

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful comment, Liam! I actually felt REALLY BAD about my rating and sat with it for months, but at the end of the day my enjoyment of this book wasn’t a good one and the parts that pissed me off are mostly what I think about now (4 months later). I think this would be a great series for audiobook, though! I am really glad you enjoyed it!

      I definitely am looking forward to finishing the trilogy… eventually. I need to know what happens with everything that was set up at the end of this book! The book is just so darn long!

      1. Liam

        December 10, 2018 at 1:11 PM

        You have absolutely nothing to feel bad about – nobody can tell you that you enjoyed something when you didn’t! I’m glad you did post the review as it gives me confidence to give less than stellar ratings!

        1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

          December 11, 2018 at 7:20 AM

          Oh yes, I really appreciate constructive, less-than-stellar ratings & reviews. A book won’t be for every reader and I do think it is important to contrast the constant hype with balance, if that makes sense?

          1. Liam

            December 12, 2018 at 5:47 AM

            It does indeed 🙂

  5. suzannerogersonfantasyauthor

    December 9, 2018 at 9:55 AM

    I agree with alot of what you’ve said here about book 2. It was a disappointing second book, but please don’t give up on the series. Book 3 was brilliant! I loved it and didn’t want it to end.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:41 AM

      Thank you so much for your comment, and I am so glad that the final installment of the trilogy picked up! I look forward to finishing this series someday, because I need to know what is going on with… spoilery things. Hehe!

  6. Marie

    December 9, 2018 at 11:18 AM

    I’m so sorry to hear this one didn’t entirely work out for you! I remember feeling like this book took its time to really start, but once it did with the action again, I was swept away. I’m personally a fan of character-driven plots and stories so I didn’t really mind in that one, but I get your reservation about it. Still, I hope that whenever you get around to reading the last book, you’ll enjoy it a bit better 🙂

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:43 AM

      Thank you so much for your comment, Marie! I normally love character-driven stories, but I think I was just so bothered by the characters in this one and how they fell into tropes they avoided in book 1 that it hampered my experience on this one. I do agree that the last 100 pages or so of the book were like HECK! YES! I do look forward to finishing the series eventually, though.

      1. Marie

        December 10, 2018 at 10:56 AM

        I get that, when I just can’t fully get on board with the characters, the book isn’t too enjoyable for me either :/
        I’ll look forward to you reading the last book though, whenever that is. Hopefully it will be better than this one for you! 😀

  7. PerfectlyTolerable

    December 9, 2018 at 1:07 PM

    Sorry you didn’t like this one. I know what you mean when you said the leadup to the games was very anti-climactic. I thought so too! And I absolutely HATE cliffhangers. But despite all that I still loved the book and the series! If you pick up the third book I hope you like it better!!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 10, 2018 at 8:45 AM

      I own book 3 already so I definitely will eventually pick it up (and maybe do some bicep curls with it) because I NEED to know how everything turns out! I love the world so much and still like my characters even though they annoyed me in this book. Thanks for your comment!

  8. Kelly Brigid

    December 9, 2018 at 11:31 PM

    Even though I ended up really enjoying this one, once I got past the SUPER SLOW beginning, I totally agree that it was far too long and that Lila’s character is irritating. I hated how she was so selfish and behaved like a child for the vast majority of the plot. I did like the last book significantly more than this one (it might be my fav book of the year 👀), so I hope you give it a try some time, Kaleena! Wonderful review!

  9. Will Read for Booze

    December 10, 2018 at 7:37 AM

    I completely agree that this book was a drag at first. I sort of feel like this was a filler book and unnecessary. If you take the beginning of this one and tack it on to the first book, then take the end and tack it to the beginning of book 3 it makes it a more well-rounded series.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 11, 2018 at 7:15 AM

      YES! I think it would have been more well-rounded as a duology personally. With the books being so long it’s depressing to have so much filler.

  10. waytoofantasy

    December 10, 2018 at 8:32 AM

    I listened to all of these on audio back to back and honestly only remember liking them and but I also only remember a few details, haha. I feel like if I had tried them in print parts definitely would have dragged for me too.

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 11, 2018 at 7:15 AM

      You aren’t the first person to mention that the audio experience was enjoyable! Maybe I will have to try it for ACoL when I get to it… the trouble is I have a hard time focusing on audiobooks.

      1. waytoofantasy

        December 11, 2018 at 11:52 AM

        I listen to a lot of them but I also have this problem. It really all depends on the narrator for me. And sometimes I still accidentally tune them out. 😂

  11. thebookprescription

    December 10, 2018 at 2:11 PM

    Great Review Kaleena 😀
    I am planning to read this one later this month!

    1. Kaleena @ Reader Voracious

      December 11, 2018 at 7:21 AM

      Thanks, Hamad, and I hope you enjoy it more than I did!

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