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A Gathering of Shadows (A Darker Shade of Magic) Kindle Edition
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Top Customer Reviews
The entire rating system for books needs to be revisited now. 5 stars is not enough for any Victoria Schwab book, but if I looked up at the night sky it wouldn't hold enough stars to rate A Gathering of Shadows. I can't find a single fault in this book (I only want to throw it out the window because the set up for the next book is killer and I need it NOW). Everything is utter perfection. The world building is stellar. The writing is up there with Neil Gaiman for genius. Kell and Lila are my favourite characters from any book ever. Simply put, this series has rocketed past everything else I've ever read and is sitting firmly in the number one spot.
This one was much more about the character development of Kell, Rhy and Lila, and also the introduction of Alucard Emery. It did this through the 'Element Games' which are 1-1 battles by leading magicians in Red London, and this gave the book some great descriptions and fanfare.
The overarching story of the battle for control over the different Londons by black magic was interwoven, but wasn't the focus of the book. But of course the cliffhanger ending has ensured it will be the focus of book 3 :)
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The underlying potential threat from White London is interesting and should have been more of the focus of this book rather than the tired and overplayed "let's have an Olympics of magic" contest that dominates so much of the story. Overall, the idea of the magical contest (Like Goblet of Fire) seems to read too much like an author's fantasy rather than a developed plot. It's weak, overused, and a bit of a crutch- especially in any fantasy-related genre.
The characters don't seem to have developed much, if at all, and are becoming a little one dimensional, and stereotypical. That makes them predictable, which is the real enemy of fiction. I'm hoping book three regains my interest.
For reference, this is a book with parallel worlds. The city of London is there in all of them, but most other details change. Grey London is in our world, so there's no magic; in Red London, nearly everyone has magic. Two other known worlds exist, and they do come into play in this book, but Red London takes center stage. If you have not read the first book in this series, though, I'd strongly suggest starting there. There is a ton of stuff that won't make sense at all, or that will pass right by you, if you don't read A Darker Shade of Magic first. But it is well worth the read!
Moving on, there are a couple of main storylines or themes in this book. A few intersect quite a lot, while the last one doesn't really come into play until the end. In the first, Kell, one of our protagonists, is not getting along well with the King and Queen of Arnes (where Red London is located). They took him in and raised him since he was a small child, but because of events at the end of book one, things are tense. This does serve to introduce conflict into the plot, but I just feel that something was missing here. I read book 2 right after book 1, so it's not as if there was a period of waiting where I might've forgotten something. It seems to me that Kell took too much of the blame for something that wasn't his fault, especially after he tried his hardest to fix things. Yes, a lot of people died and a lot of damage was done, but he wasn't the instigator. And he never really got a satisfactory answer for why he was treated so poorly. That left a bit of a bad taste in my mouth with respect to the King and Queen, anyway. (There was always *something* that didn't sit right with me about them, in that they took Kell from his birth family when he was a young child, but they were kind enough to him in the first book that I let that slide. Not so much in this book.)
The second main storyline is a tournament of magic that is taking place in Red London. This was kind of a turn-off for me, quite honestly. It smacked a lot of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, only with mostly adult participants. There were magical battles and lots of action, but they weren't as fun to read as the magical battles in book one, where the stakes were real, where people's lives were on the line. Also, for various reasons, there wasn't really anyone to root for in terms of winning the tournament. (I didn't care much for the character who eventually won, which may be part of it.) The tournament took up a lot of time, and it provided a setting for some of the tensions among Kell, the King, and the Queen, to boil over, but it just seemed like filler. Some other event, where I cared more about the outcome, might have been better used in the tournament's place.
Lila, another protagonist from the first book, has been gone from Red London for four months, sailing around as a pirate or privateer or whatever she calls herself -- it's what she always wanted. She has learned a little bit about magic in that time. And she cons her way into the tournament. Unfortunately, this is a rather awful fantasy trope -- the super prodigy who can do anything better than nearly everyone else after almost no training. I am perfectly willing to suspend disbelief in fantasy -- you have to! -- but this strains the limits of credulity. (As an aside, her four months at sea should probably have been quite a bit longer. She pulled one scam where she needed longer hair and so she grew hers out. Let me tell you, it takes more than four months to go from something like a pixie cut to having even shoulder-length hair.) Lila is relatively unchanged from the first book, though. I mostly like her, but it is hard to overlook what she does to the person whose slot she takes in the magic tournament. That does sour me on her a bit. I end up having a lot more sympathy for Kell because he really does seem to have been treated unfairly, and his actions don't strike me as anywhere near as selfish.
And then, running parallel to the events of the main story, there are surprising things going on in White London. I think I actually like this part. Kell and company have literally no idea about any of it, and yet by feeding us little bits at a time, the author makes us worry more about Kell and his eventual fate. It is an excellent building of suspense.
But then there is the ending. Which is not an ending, really, but a cliffhanger in the worst sort of way (maybe it should even be considered a double cliffhanger, if such a thing exists). I know the third book comes out in February of next year, but if I had read this during release week and had to wait a whole year for the next one, I would not have been happy. Although the tournament is self-contained, this book overall definitely is not. It does seem the author publishes on a regular schedule, so it is not like waiting for the next book from Patrick Rothfuss or George R.R. Martin. But if you are thinking of picking up the series, I might advise you to wait until February so you can read all three books in one go.
I've shared a lot of criticisms above. But I didn't hate the book. I was not fond of the tournament aspect, but I did like the tension from the White London part of the story, I did like the dynamics of Kell's and Lila's relationship, and I mostly had sympathy for the point-of-view characters. I am still eager to find out the mysteries of Kell's and Lila's origins and hope that is resolved in book 3. And I am interested in the changing dynamics among all the various Londons and do want to see how that is resolved overall.
What I liked
The characters. Right from the beginning, Lila had me chuckling along with her sassy attitude and I sympathised with Kell and Rhy as they tried to come to terms with the events of the previous book. Some new characters are introduced, notably Alucard Emery. This is a particularly interesting new addition as both our protagonists have very different attitudes towards him. This leaves the reader somewhat torn about how to feel about him. He’s rather a mysterious characters - It’s clear that he’s a lot more than just the pirate - excuse me, privateer - that he claims to be. I really hope we learn more about him in subsequent books.
The romance. The relationship between Kell and Lila was so cute and beautifully done, especially given how little time they actually spend interacting with each other in the book. There were so many adorable instances of Lila thinking things like “oh, that guy’s hair is almost the same shade as Kell’s” or Kell’s seeing something pretty and thinking of how much Lila would enjoy it. Of course, if confronted both would vehemently deny being in love. A clear case of showing, not telling. Brava Victoria.
Interesting pacing. As the book blurb indicates, a significant focus of this book is the Element Games, a magical equivalent of our Olympics. Yet, they do not provide much dramatic tension. They are generally non lethal, and the outcome of winning is little more than achieving bragging rights. In fact, until about 85% of the way through the book very little actually happens. Towards the end, it was very clear that this story would not be self contained in the way that the first one was, and that I would have to prepare for a cliffhanger. The wonderful thing, however, is that I really didn’t care. I was having too much fun following these two crazy kids and their mixed signals romance and the magical world in which it takes place. The last few chapters of the book really speed things up though and I can’t wait for the next book.
What I didn’t like
Lack of variety in the Element Games. Each level of the competition follows the same format. I would have welcomed some changes in structure for the subsequent bouts. Also I did have to suspend my disbelief at certain participants. Did Stasion really think he could compete at Olympic level with his limited experience of magic?
Despite those minor gripes, I adored A Gathering of Shadows and it gets a well-deserved five stars out of five from me.
For those of you who are new to Schwab's Shades of Magic series, I'll give you a quick run-down. The books follow the adventures of Kell, an Antari (incredibly rare magician), his brother Rhy (a prince), and Delilah Bard (thief extraordinaire). The first book is great because it does spend quite a lot of time world-building: explaining how Antari magic works and the alternate versions of London, but it also gives the reader plenty of adventure and quite a bit of angst.
A Gathering of Shadows picks up about five months after the conclusion of A Darker Shade of Magic. Without delving too much into the plot, because spoilers, I'll tell you that we're reunited with Kell, Rhy, and Lila. We also meet mysterious ship Captain Alucard Emery. The Essen Tasch (Element Games) are taking place in Red London and the lives of our characters are about to change forever.
A Gathering of Shadows raises the stakes for our beloved characters. I love that the chapters are told from alternating points of view and that the book is divided into segments. These two things allow us time to connect with and learn more about our protagonists. Alucard, Kell, Lila, and Rhy are all fascinating, complex characters, and I love that they're portrayed as actual human beings- neither completely good or bad.
The Essen Tasch is an interesting premise- think Triwizard Tournament but without the wands and a little more violence. It takes us beyond the magic of the Antari, which Schwab focused on in the first book, and builds our understanding of elemental magic. Lila played an interesting role in the Games, but I will say that she was the one character who sort of irked me in this book.
Really the only con I have with AGOS is Lila. When we meet Delilah Bard in Grey London, she is a thief, yes, but she also has a conscience. While we do get glimpses of that girl in this book, it seems more like she has lost any sense of what it right or wrong. The thirst for magic has taken over her life and causes her to make many questionable decisions. The Lila we met in A Darker Shade of Magic was not this selfish!
Overall, I highly recommend picking up A Gathering of Shadows. It's a fantasy adventure of the best sort, and I can't wait to see how the series ends!
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