BOOK REVIEW | A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab (4 stars)

agos-uk-coverVerdict: A very welcome return to Red London and the lives of Lila and Kell. I’m a bit terrified for the next book.

Question: What’s better than a cross-dressing thief and a royal magician at the end of his tether?

Answer: Nothing.

A Gathering of Shadows picks up a few months after the last book left off. Things in Red London have changed – and not for the better. Kell is a prisoner in his own home, and he and his brother Rhy are struggling to cope with their new co-dependency. Kell’s frustration is palpable, and the irritation at being so restricted builds with the reader at the same time as the character. You’ll be ready to snap at someone within a first few chapters.

Lila, however, is experiencing a different kind of restriction. She has no guards holding her, no chains, but she has slowly grown used to – if not fond – of her crew. Now the ‘best thief’ on a ship of privateers, she learns magic under the tutelage of Captain Alucard Emery – a sailor with a past as murky as her own.

When Kell and Lila’s paths finally – FINALLY, DAGNABBIT – collide again… well, you’ll just have to read that part. I expect the ‘Team Kila’ and ‘Team Limery’ t-shirts to sprout up on the Internet any day now.

But that’s Red London. What about the others? Well, Grey is Grey, and typically boring, although something may be brewing there… but White London? Black London? Something has already brewed, and it spells trouble for our favourite Atari.

It might even spell D-E-A-T-H.

The only thing I didn’t love about this novel was the occasional ‘Middle Book Syndrome’ feel. Although the action was compelling when it happened, and the book got off to a very strong start, there was a sense of it all being a set-up for the third book in the series. This was by no means an entirely bad thing, because it fleshed-out characters, gave us some welcome development and the plot itself was interesting. Yet, sometimes there were lags in the pace, which I don’t remember as a problem from the first book. It was a bit like Schwab had carefully gathered her troops but never gave the order to attack … or maybe I’m just bitter at having to wait months for the resolution of that cliffhanger. Either is possible. The latter is probable.

A Gathering of Shadows is difficult to talk about without providing spoilers, but needless to say it is a frighteningly engaging book. Schwab has artfully crafted a host of empathetic characters you won’t want to leave when the story ends. I closed the book and immediately looked up the publication date of A Conjuring of Light (Feb 21st 2017, according to Goodreads.) Too long to wait. Too long.

Her take on heroism, ambition and relationships are refreshing, as well as the magic that binds everyone together. Not to mention the kick-arse protagonists who are as solid as you or me. After pages and pages of feeling Kell’s frustration, I had tears in my eyes when he finally told the King how things were. And then the bottom dropped out of my stomach when the garden scene happened.

N.B. If you know what I mean by ‘the garden scene’, I have been waiting for Lila to do this since I first met her. YEARS, I tell you. YEARS.

Beautifully written, always engaging, with a dedication to the worldbuilding and characters she created, Schwab has given us another wonderful read. If you enjoyed A Darker Shade of Magic (because who didn’t?) then this book should be next on your reading list. If you don’t know who Schwab, Kell or Lila are yet, then grab your copies, take a few days off work and catch up.

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