So the sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab, A Gathering of Shadows, came out this week and I devoured it in a couple of hours so I’ve decided to combine my reviews of both books together (and express my OUTRAGE at the cliffhanger we’ve been left).
So first off I have to say I love this world (worlds?). The atmosphere Schwab creates is a combination of feckless wonder and dark claustrophobia. Magic is seen as a living, moving, thinking thing that doesn’t differentiate between good and bad, just sees power; which personally I find terrifying. Its like trying to reason with a robot that just sees a logical solution but misses the human cost. A Darker Shade of Magic is set hundreds of years after magic over-ran and consumed one of four connected worlds forcing the others to seal themselves from each other. Travel is now only possible if you are an Antari, a magician with mastery over all the elements, including the most important of all: blood. Kell is one of only two Antari left in all the worlds and serves his king and queen by connecting them with their counterparts. I love Kell. This is Kell in my mind:
Kell is a young, mildly tortured, brilliant magician who has no memory of his childhood until he came under the care of the crown. A crown that sees him as a valuable possession, but treats him as a son leading to some serious mind-fuckery. Kell has been committing mild treason during his visits to the other Londons by bringing objects from them into his own world, and on one of these trips he brings back something he definitely shouldn’t have – cue mayhem. There are various other characters in the book including the other remaining Antari, Holland who is a dark, EXTREMELY tortured, individual that perfectly encapsulates the claustrophobic feeling I was talking about earlier. Rhy is the charming, adventurous, flirtatious prince Kell has grown up alongside and views as a brother, Rhy seems at first to be a typical spoiled royal but he definitely has some hidden depth and he’s grown on me across both books. BUT the main character alongside Kell is Lila, and Lila completely rocks. Here is (a little older) Lila:
Simply put Lila has never been given a thing in her life – she has survived in her harsh, magic-less world because of a combination of badassery, intelligence and ruthlessness. You can’t help but admire Lila even when her actions exasperate you and she is the perfect counterpart to Kell’s uptight restrictive thinking. For Lila freedom is the most important thing in the world and she’ll do anything to get hers. I love watching as Lila struggles with a sense of debt and then loyalty towards Kell; until the events of the book she only looked out for herself and Schwab manages to realistically develop their relationship from animosity to a debt repaid to friendship.
Without giving too much away, the events of A Darker Shade of Magic seem self-contained with only the hint of a future storyline…a storyline that explodes in A Gathering of Shadows which I absolutely loved. It has so many elements – swashbuckling piracy, magic battles, an exploration of the price of magic and the toll a life-debt can take on a relationship, a bit of romance that enhances the plot without overwhelming it and so much more. One of my favourite parts of this sequel is how Schwab developed Kell’s character. She delves deeper into the parts of his life that have gnawed at him for years and now threaten to consume him. His frustration at being trapped by duty and love as well as a rising sense of uselessness have been heightened by the events of A Darker Shade of Magic and now come to the fore in A Gathering of Shadows. There are some excellent characters added to the bill in this book and Lila has begun to explore the suddenly expanded options available to her as well as battling with her inbuilt need to flee from anything settled.
The masquerade scene from the film Van Helsing encapsulates much of the atmosphere in A Gathering of Shadows – gorgeous, decadent and deadly. And despite my RAGE at the cliff Schwab has left us on, I think this is a sequel that does exactly what a good sequel should – moves the story along, develops characters realistically, elaborates on the world-building already established in the first book and leaves you panting for more.