Blurb 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.
After FALLING IN UTTER LOVE with this book’s predecessor- A Darker Shade of Magic (reviewed here)- I had such high hopes for A Gathering of Shadows (AGOS.) And for me, on the whole, they were fulfilled. V.E Scwab is, without doubt a magnificent writer, and her world-building skills are expansive, thorough and nothing short of phenomenal. To write about multiple magical Londons- Red London, Grey London, and so on- with their own brand of magic, their own cultures, their own languages and history- is no mean feat, let making the only two Antari magicians capable of crossing through them (solemn, moral Kell and forever-sad, tormented Holland) seem human and believable. And yet Schwab does this- and she does it with ease. Sad Holland in particular stood out for me as a unique and complex character- neither good nor evil, but in a limbo somewhere between, and always manipulated by stronger, darker powers (without giving too much away.) More Sad Holland please!
At some points, I really felt as if I was actually there, the writing is so well crafted and immersive. The use of a unique ‘Red London’ language in the novel was fresh, engaging and dynamic. I also really engaged with the character of pirate-thief-vagabond-amateur-magician Lila Bard. (And yes, she is all those things- and yes, her character is so three-dimensional that having one character be all those things is not a problem.) She swaggers through much of AGOS merrily causing havoc, playing power games with pirate captain and sometime prince, Alucard, and generally tormenting Kell (because Kell is, of course, in love with her.) There is also more than a hint that (SPOILER) Lila may be a long-lost Antari herself. And oooooh, talking about Lila and Kell, (SPOILER) the romance in this one has really been ramped up a gear! And not only that, but there is ONE PARTICULAR SCENE (MAJOR SPOILER!) between Prince Rhy and Alucard that is so hot and steamy it will make you want to take a cold shower afterwards. (Yep, spoiler-there IS a gay romance/subplot in AGOS and it is so damn good. I ship Rhy and Alucard so hard. *Fans self*)
Ok, so that’s all the great stuff I really loved. Now here’s the stuff I was not so sure about:
1. All the characters- and by that I mean, there were so many of them (pirates, princelings, royals, magicians, healers, warriors etc.) that I began to lose track.
2. Rhy- I have serious issues with this character. I find him a bit too whiny and pampered- reminding me a little at times of Prince Dorian (who I nicknamed Bore-ian in S.J Maas’s ‘Throne of Glass’ series- you can actually read my review of ‘Throne of Glass’ here.) He seems so different from Kell that I have trouble believing their closeness. Unlike Kell, he never really seems to do anything. Too soft-hearted for my liking- I can see him becoming too much of a pawn (if he isn’t already.) Plus, his royal hoity-toity parents either bored or annoyed me with their machinations and speeches about the Essen Tasch. (Sometimes they managed to both bore AND annoy me at the same time. This may seem harsh, but it’s just my opinion.)
3. This brings me on to the magical bond Kell now has with Rhy- again, I felt this had been done before, and it didn’t grip me very much, especially as I found Rhy one of the least engaging characters. I hate to say it, but I preferred Kell when he was more of a maverick smuggler, and less worrying about Rhy, who just seems to get in the way a heck of a lot of the time. I will admit though that the completely unexpected romance with Alucard had me on tenterhooks. Major respect for LGBT representation here.
4.The Element Games- or the Essen Tasch– completely passed me by. Sorry, but although some parts were good, I felt as though a lot of this had been done before in other YA/fantasy novels. Some of it I actually felt was a teeny weeny bit boring. (Sorry, Schwab fans!)
5. The character of Okja was fairly interesting, but again I felt as though her type (i.e crazy Kill Bill– esque assassin lady) had been done before, and I wasn’t sure whether she was actually needed.
6. Same with Ned, the human wannabe-magician in Grey London- er, what exactly is the point of him? Maybe this will all be explained in ‘A Conjuring of Light’ (ACOL) the last in the series, but until then…
7. Finally, has no-one realized that Alucard’s name is ‘Dracula’ backwards? Am I the only one? This was so misleading for me-for a while I was absolutely convinced that Alucard must have been some sort of vampire in disguise, as this felt far too much of a coincidence. Turns out, it was a coincidence- who knew? (I blame Kim Newman’s Anno Dracula series for that one. If reinventions of the classic Victorian vampire story are your thing, by the way, be sure to read my review of Anno Dracula here.)
Having said that, I really enjoyed this book, and the ending (no spoilers) had me gripped. (SPOILER) I am still shipping Rhy and Alucard (UNTIL THE END, people, UNTIL THE END) and some parts had be both gripped, enthralled and shocked. While it didn’t leave me quite as swoony as A Darker Shade of Magic, the writing was absolutely flawless, and I can’t wait to read A Conjuring of Light to find out what happens to Kell, Lila, Sad Holland and Alucard.
Overall rating: 7 out of 10
This Book in Four Words: Innovative. Imaginative. Diverse. Complex.
Read This Book If You Enjoyed: ‘A Darker Shade of Magic’ by V.E Schwab (of course) ‘Neverwhere’ by Neil Gaiman (read my review here.)
Favourite Character: Lila Bard (one word- Badass.)
Diversity Checklist: Bisexual/gay character/s, (hurrah!) characters of different races/cultures/backgrounds (e.g. badass tournament warrior, Kisimyr.)