Do you enjoy alternate realities, epic fantasy, ships on the sea and ships of the heart, magic, more magic, holy shit magic, and characterization strong enough to bend a steel bar?
Welcome to A Gathering of Shadows by V. E. Schwab.
Following the events of A Darker Shade of Magic, A Gathering of Shadows picks up several months later, as our intrepid and broken heroes do their best to adjust to their new lives: Kell, his life bound to his brother to keep him alive, and not trusted by the crown, skulks through Red London, burning with the need to escape and to live for himself. Rhy, the crown prince, drinks through the pain of a life hobbled by his connection to Kell, in a deeper fashion than either would want, and must come to terms with his new life, with perhaps an old flame coming back into his world. Lila sails the high seas, pursuing wealth in the only form that matters to her: power. She’s training in magic with her captain Alucard, even though a Grey London girl shouldn’t have any potential for magic. Meanwhile, across realities, worlds thought dying or dead find themselves suddenly coming back from the brink, but at what cost?
Victoria Schwab can write, man. Of this, there is no doubt. Zilch. Nada. Her work on Vicious proved that to me, and every book of hers I’ve read since has either ascertained this fact, OR, has in fact proven that she’s even better than I thought before. Every project is evidence of leveling-up, and AGoS is no exception. ADSoM was a very good book, and I enjoyed the hell out of it. As much as I loved it, ADSoM seemed to me a very Plot book: A to B to C, a lot of movement and a lot of set-up that was ultimately rewarding, but tended to slow the book down as a whole. There was a wealth of character, and I loved it very dearly, but the narrative focus seemed to be honed in on the plot.
Not so for AGoS; this book simply SINGS with characterization. While ADSoM introduced our characters and their flaws, AGoS really pushes down on them, and forces them to fight for what they want. It backs them into a corner, and offers no escape. It brings the readers right into their heads, and watches as they choose for themselves, or for those they love, or neither. In AGoS, our characters are able to further burst from their initial sketchings, and truly step into their own. Kell and Lila and Rhy always interested me in ADSoM, but watching them fight against the injustice of the worlds, craving escape, demanding happiness? That‘s when things get really interesting. ADSoM did an amazing job of introducing these characters to me, and AGoS has helped me to know them on the deepest level possible, and it’s fan-freaking-tastic. Schwab knows exactly what she’s doing, and she moves her players across the board with a confidence and poise I honestly want to steal, (but I will not, for I know she only uses her powers for good).
Schwab’s worldbuilding is on full display in this book as well. While many would be happy to simply have four different worlds to showcase, Schwab doesn’t stop there. She dives deep and showcases individual conflicts and peoples inside those worlds, bringing an already vibrant world into brighter hues and tones, highlighting cultures, magic, and more that we didn’t even know were there. She really takes the opportunity to show the reader that these aren’t just alternate versions of London; it’s alternate versions of our whole damn world.
And dear god, the action! The central plot of this book involves the Element Games, a series of competitions with players from all over the world and country of Arnes, where Red London is, and once this particular ball gets rolling, Schwab doesn’t take her foot off the pedal. Ever. Like, she has a lead foot when it comes to hardcore action, y’all. Every face to face battle sequence is thrumming with adrenaline and fancy footwork, as magic, characterization, and plot all roll together into scene after scene of heart-pounding fights that had me grinning from ear to ear.
I mean, look, what else is there to say aside from: kissing, magic, knives, fire, duplicity, tension of the sexual kind and the secular kind, shadows, bargains, ghosts, and a cliffhanger so goddamn muthatrucking audacious, it had me shouting at the book while on public transit. I’m not kidding. Ask the NJT.
If you enjoy deep characterization, alternate realities, people kissing each other on their faces, deals in the dark, turmoil, friendship, humor, and tragedy, then this book is for you. If you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, well, get to stepping. If you have, then order A Gathering of Shadows now!
It’s most absolutely worth your time.
I was sent an extra copy of the book by the publisher, and would happily see it go to a good home. If you’d like to WIN a copy of A GATHERING OF SHADOWS, simply comment on this review to enter. I will draw a week from Tuesday, March 1st!
(US and Canada only).