A Gathering of Shadows is a slow burn Character Story

A Gathering of Shadows | V. E. Schwab

★★★

Set four months after A Darker Shade of Magic, Kell is more prisoner than prince watched closely by the King and Queen and blamed for the so-called Black Night. Rhy grapples with the guilt of being tied to Kell’s life and the uncanny feeling that comes with his second chance. Lila finds her place at sea, learning Arnesian and magic under Captain Alucard. White London remains strangely quiet, as a new power emerges following the death of the Danes. And soon, the Element Games will begin in Red London.

Kell would say it was impossible. What a useless word, in a world with magic.

Where A Darker Shade of Magic jumped from London to London, cramming plot and action into every page, A Gathering of Shadows merely ambles along in a beautiful but slow attempt to build up the characters. There is some tension in the book: we see tiny glimpses of what is happening in White London and there is the run up to Red London’s equivalent of the Olympics: The Element Games or Essen Tasch, most of the book is spent in character work. Both Kell and Lila, each in disguise, end up participating in the Essen Tasch. On paper this sounds like an excellent plot but it falls a little flat as the games function more as a device to bring back all of the key players to Red London.

A Gathering of Shadows Final

Let’s start with character development. This took up a lot of the space in the book and was pretty well done. Kell’s feelings of being a pawn of the crown and of being an outsider is substantiated in this book. Whether it is from the attitude of the royal family not  itself to the way Arnesians treat him, this book builds up Kell’s feelings of being othered. I want to see him turn into the villain. Let’s be real, he’s not a particularly interesting character – he’s all power and angst with a dash of familial love for his brother. So let’s make him a bit more interesting or at least a bit more conflicted please!

Let them think what they want was a thought that visited him with far less frequency and force than They see you as a monster

This book heavily focuses on Lila in a way that ADSOM does not. Her four months in Red London result in her ability to not only perform magic but trick her way into The Element Games. I love Lila’s character and how well she had been written up until this point but my gosh, she ventures into the ‘I’m not like other girls’ and ‘doesn’t she look good in a dress’ territory that she had avoided up until this point. This frustrated me a lot while reading it but thankfully is only seen in bits and pieces of the book and by the end she is back to her usual self.

Lila Bard
Lila Bard fanart via Tumblr

What are you? Kell had asked her once.
What am I? She wondered now, as the fire rolled across her knuckles like a coin

This question is repeated in the book especially as Lila is clearly very powerful having had very little training. I am putting my faith in Schwab’s writing that there is a reason behind it rather than her being overpowered. Maybe she is from Black London, maybe she’s Antari, maybe it is something different altogether. She is however presented as reckless and overly confident towards the end of the book and I hope this develops.

 

One issue I had with the first book has carried over: I still don’t fully understand the magical system (am I just being dim?). There seems to be elemental magic, then the magic that the Antari can do and then other things like Bone magic is brought up. If a central thread running through the series is how magic should be treated or used, it is tantamount to make it clear how it actually works.

“It’s all a about balance, Ned.” Why couldn’t Lila understand? “Chaos needs order. Magic needs moderation. It’s like a fire. It doesn’t have self-control. It feeds off whatever you give it, and if you give it too much, it burns and burns until there’s nothing left.”

This is not an average book per se; the character development is necessary and the Element Games are an inventive addition to the world but it frustrated me for large chunks. My expectations of this book were closer to what we see in the first book and the fact that something huge, something that is world changing in-universe is shoved to the side as a B-plot feels criminal. I do feel like this book could have been shorter and achieved the same thing. I’m keen to read the third book as this ends in a beautiful if undeserved cliffhanger and appreciate what this book was doing, I just wish I had known going in that it was going to be much slower.

Rogue Thoughts

  • I love how Lila uses poetry to spark her magic
  • Calla is Lila’s Edna Mode and I am here for it. I love that she has a costume maker!
  • What about the guy that Lila killed? Are we just going to forget about him?
  • The royal family are definitely brown. It’s way more explicit in this book but it would have been nice to know earlier.

What do you think? I feel like I’m in the minority here with my rating skewing a bit more to the average side.

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4 thoughts on “A Gathering of Shadows is a slow burn Character Story

  1. Yeah this was definitely more of a slow burn. This was a lot slower and fell flat in parts for me too. And yeah Lila absolutely became more of an “I’m not like other girls” type. I really agree that this could have been shorter as well- even though I liked it overall.
    Brilliant review! 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you!
      I admired how well she was written in the first book so was disappointed so see that stereotype creep in. I hope it resolves in the final part!

      Like

  2. Wonderful review! I wasn’t as impressed with the first book as everyone else, but I did really enjoy Lila as a character. So it’s a shame she falls into my least favorite trope in this one, nothing makes me roll my eyes quicker than “not like other girls”. I’m not sure I’ll continue reading this series, but I’ve heard the third book is amazing so I’m kind of curious. And I agree, Kell becoming a villain would be a big improvement of his character arc.

    Like

    1. Thanks Aurora! 😊
      I am keen to continue partly because of reputation and partly because I love the writing so much! I’m hoping Lila snaps out of it. 🙃

      Like

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