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A Gathering of Shadows: A Novel (Shades of Magic) Paperback – January 17, 2017
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RT Book Reviews Top Pick! Review
"A Darker Shade of Magic has all the hallmarks of a classic work of fantasy. Schwab has given us a gem of a tale...This is a book to treasure."―Deborah Harkeness, New York Times bestselling author of the All Souls trilogy
"Rich details illuminate every dimension of an extravagant city flooded with magic, and intriguing personalities evolve into complex characters...between [the characters those] the vivid setting, and the climactic cliffhanger, Schwab already has us anticipating the rest of the series." ―Entertainment Weekly, Grade A, on A Gathering of Shadows
"Compulsively readable…her characters make the book. Just as Kell has layers, Lila is a satisfyingly rich invention…the stakes feel higher because Schwab takes the time to make a world worth getting lost in. Darker Shade Of Magicresolves its plot thoroughly, but still feels like it could be the seed of a lengthy series. With so many worlds on the map, there's plenty left to discover." ―NPR on A Darker Shade of Magic
"Schwab is a fantastic writer, and this book moves along quickly: it’s an easy world to immerse oneself in, and the four Londons that we get to visit are a treat to behold: they’re vibrant, interesting and detailed. The worldbuilding here is spectacular, and it’s worth picking up the book for this alone. (Well, and the fantastic cover.)The series is set to be adapted into a television series, and both books will be perfect for that." ―io9 on A Gathering of Shadows
"This is how fantasy should be done.” ―Publishers Weekly, starred review, on A Gathering of Shadows
"Full of magic, intrigue, adventure, deception, a bit of piracy...this will engage both adult and young adult fantasy readers alike.” ―Booklist on A Gathering of Shadows
About the Author
V. E. SCHWAB's first adult novel, Vicious, debuted to critical praise and reader accolades. Schwab is the author of YA novels, including the acclaimed The Near Witch, along with writing Middle Grade for Scholastic. The Independent calls Schwab "the natural successor to Diana Wynne Jones" and someone who has "an enviable, almost Gaiman-esque ability to switch between styles, genres, and tones."
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Top Customer Reviews
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.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
I love Lila. I love Kell. I love Alucard and enjoyed getting to know him.Read more