Off the Shelf: A Review of A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab

I think it’s safe to say I’m hooked on this series. After reading A Darker Shade of Magic, I couldn’t wait to get started on the second installment in the Shades of Magic trilogy. V.E. Schwab/ Victoria Schwab is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors and someone whose writing style I can’t help but idolize. I returned to the series with the second audiobook (my new addiction!) and fell in love with this world all over again.

A Gathering of Shadows Final

Summary (via 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.”

Things I Liked:
If you read my review of A Darker Shade of Magic, you know that one of the only problems I had with it had nothing to do with the story at all. It was that I was listening to it on audiobook (something I didn’t expect to like, but ended up loving!), and the narrator, while perfectly engaging and entertaining, did both Kell and Lila’s chapters. This might’ve been fine had his female voice not sounded a bit Monty Python-esque. But HALLELUJAH! Things vastly improve with the audiobook of this sequel, as there are now TWO narrators, Michael Kramer and Kate Reading. And just as I expected, with Lila sounding less like a parody, I really grew to respect and love her as a character more so in this book than the first.

As I said, I really developed a love for Lila in this one. Her coldness from ADSOM is starting to chip away. She’s still just as witty as ever and to blame for quite a few of my literal laugh-out-loud moments, but I feel like there’s far more depth to her character explored here, and I like what I see. “She had heard men praying at sea, not to God, but to the world, to magic, to anything that might be listening. A higher power, a different name. Lila hadn’t believed in God for a very long time—she’d given up praying when it was clear that no one would answer—and while she was willing to admit that Magic existed, it didn’t seem to listen, or at least, it didn’t seem to care. Lila took a strange pleasure in that, because it meant the power was her own.”

It felt like I was waiting forever for Kell and Lila to reunite, but when they did, it was everything that I wanted it to be. Seriously, their interactions and grab bag full of emotions were perfection. I’m not one who typically gets caught up in the romantic elements of a story, but I was practically giddy when they were finally in the same place at the same time. It’s emotional, moving, and I can’t help but ship it.

This is a turning point for the series. It reminded me in a few ways of my favorite book in the Harry Potter series, Goblet of Fire. Of course, there’s the tournament happening – and it’s even a magician’s tournament! But while the Element Games tournament is entirely different in setup from Harry’s Triwizard Tournament, it still provides a lovely background for part of the story to unfold upon. I LOVED the amount of detail that Schwab uses to craft this world, its language, and even its customs – including the games and Rhy’s inventiveness with the decor. But what I really mean is this– Goblet of Fire was the turning point of the Harry Potter series because it took it into deeper, darker territory. Especially with the first big death of the series, you knew you were no longer reading a book intended for children, and you knew you needed to prepare yourself for how bad things could possibly get. It’s the same with AGOS, particularly its ending which shows us that if we thought the Dane twins were as bad as it got, they were nothing in comparison to this new evil and what is to come.

Alucard. Lord have mercy, his character has become a guilty pleasure, and I want more. More snark. More banter. More backstory. And coming from someone who read A Gathering of Shadows AFTER the Alucard/Dracula twitter debate on V. E. Schwab’s feed, while Alucard most definitely isn’t a vampire, it does make you wonder what Schwab could do if given the chance to turn the usual vampire trope on its head.

Things I Didn’t Like:

Alucard. –but wait, isn’t Alucard in the “Things I Liked” category? Yes, yes he is. BUT. Part of me feels bad for enjoying his character as much as I did. Some of his behaviors towards Lila made me cringe. I find myself identifying with Kell more and more, and so I trust Kell’s judgment. I fully expect Alucard to really show himself in the third and final book, perhaps not in the best of ways. Although, maybe part of me will be rooting for him. I’m torn. –but is that really a thing you didn’t like? No, not really, but when the series is this good, you have to start somewhere.

There is a bit of a second book slump in this trilogy with a whole lot of build up and not much action, so some parts (particularly those with someone who isn’t as dead as he should be) may be slow. But just sit back and enjoy this incredible world and all you are learning about its cast of characters. I don’t think the story could have been told any quicker and still held the same amount of tension. Think of this story as a roller coaster, and book two is your steady climb up the hill. You can see how terrifyingly far off the ground you are, and that terror grows with every passing second. You’ll finish at the top of the hill and be fully aware of most the falls, twists, and turns racing towards your face in book three.

Overall Rating:

4/5.
I’m admittedly hooked on this series, and I can’t get enough. While A Gathering of Shadows didn’t quite live up to the quick pace and relentless action of A Darker Shade of Magic, I was entranced by how much more about the world and its characters was uncovered. The Element Games were incredibly fun and refreshing to read, and gave a much closer look at how the magic in this realm works. I already have the third and final audiobook downloaded, but I for one am not sure that I’m ready for all of the chaos and heartbreak that’s sure to come.

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