“Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.”
V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows picks up four months after the final events of A Darker Shade of Magic. Lilah Bard is a thief aboard a ship captained by a rakish dandy who also happens to be a powerful magician who ALSO happens to be entered in the wizard Olympics back in London. Which means – you guessed it! – Delilah is returning to London, where she will maybe be reunited with Kell, whom she walked away from without so much as a backward glance because she’s that much of a bad bitch. Meanwhile, Kell and Rhy are both suffering the effects of the morally dubious life-binding spell that Kell cast in order to resurrect Rhy from the dead. In order to shake off their shared tension, Rhy comes up with the potentially disastrous plan to disguise Kell so he can compete in the Wizard Olympics. In other words: Lilah and Kell, like so many people before them, are being drawn back together by the unavoidable hands of fate and international competition! YUSSSSS!
(In case you guys are wondering, Wizard Olympics is my term, not V.E. Schwab’s. I just want to state that for the record.)
This may be a little bit obvious, but I LOVED this second book in V.E. Schwab’s immensely readable Shades of Magic series. A Darker Shade of Magic is a tough book to follow up; I often find that when I’m reading speculative fiction that has a particularly remarkable setting, the initial excitement of finding myself in a wonderful new world can’t be replicated or equaled by the new story elements in subsequent books. Not so in A Gathering of Shadows! This is one of those rare, exciting instances in which I like the second book even more than the first. Everything deepens and edges sharpen: characters are shaded with more complexity, the lush world of Red London grows outward, and the stakes get REAL. Schwab drew me into this world, this story, in A Darker Shade of Magic, but A Gathering of Shadows made me fall in love with it.
Now, in case you’re wondering if the Wizard Olypmics will be infused with sexual tension: OH MY GOD, YES. And I do mean tension; Schwab could (and maybe should?) write a manual on how to build romantic loin tension, so that by the time lips finally meet you are DYING for the characters to smush themselves together already.
Thematically there is a heavy focus on free will versus fate, freedom versus imprisonment; throughout the novel Schwab shows us characters trapped by impossible situations, characters captive to their own behavior patterns and traumas, characters who are, quite literally, incarcerated. This theme of beloved characters being stuck never quite gets claustrophobic, though, as there are also many instances of characters liberating themselves and each other to act as a counterbalance.
PLUS, an arena story! I do so love arena stories.
DOUBLE PLUS, that cover art! Is it gorgeous or is it gorgeous?
In other words: read this book. Read this series, if you haven’t yet. Get yourr bottom to your nearest library/independent bookseller and just DO IT already.
For music I am taking a super cheapskate route because one of the chapters was titled “Londons Calling” and I freaking LOVE IT when authors reference rock and roll in their chapter titles. It’s one of my things, I guess you could say.