In A Darker Shade of Magic V.E. Schwab created an enthralling world with multiple Londons, full of magic and dark forces, starring one powerful magiIn A Darker Shade of Magic V.E. Schwab created an enthralling world with multiple Londons, full of magic and dark forces, starring one powerful magician with an amazing coat and a mysterious past and one cross-dressing pirate with a taste for adventure and a shitload of knives. They saved the world(s), but at what cost?
V.E. Schwab makes a lot of bold, risky choices in A Gathering of Shadows. Did you think it took too long for Lila and Kell to meet up in ADSOM? It takes even longer here, as they have gone their separate ways after the events of that book, but this time, it doesn't generate as much impatience because we get a lot more Lila fucking Bard—we open with her—and she's expectedly amazing. She's found a spot on a pirate ship, sailing with the suave Captain Alucard Emery. Kell's life is somewhat less exciting, and he is mostly dealing with the ramifications of his new bond with Rhy. Compared to ADSOM, AGOS is less about plot and more about character. Whereas ADSOM was riveting because of the danger and stakes and Lila and Kell's attempt to stop the dark forces, AGOS is compelling because of its exploration of Lila, Kell, and Rhy post-ADSOM. Schwab is really good about recapping/reminding readers of what happened, which is great, as this book is so much about What That Did to Everyone. Who are they now, what do they want out of life, who do they want to be? Literally hundreds of pages went by without giving me an idea of what the Main Plot of the book was and I didn't really care because I was simply absorbed in the world and the characters, which is absolutely to Schwab's credit. There is a hint or two of a villain, a dark force rising, but it's a ticking time bomb in the background since, similar to the third-person POV scenes in ADSOM, Our Heroes have no idea about them so they don't even know they're supposed to be stopping anyone or anything, they're just going on about with their lives. And the Element Games! The centerpiece of the novel is a HUGE MAGIC TOURNAMENT because who doesn't love huge magic tournaments. It's here when characters begin to collide and things really heat up, but when I say centerpiece, I mean that literally: it takes half the book for things to really heat up. To top it all off, the book ends on a cliffhanger! V.E. Schwab does not care what you think, she's just doing things how she wants and you better like it.
This sounds like I'm frustrated, and I'm not! That's the thing! I have been frustrated by books before, so I know what it's like. The writing and the world and the characters are so good that I did not mind that the book has no clear overarching narrative because the narratives are all the individual character arcs and how they intertwine by the end as they affect each other. I say all this because anyone going in expecting More of the Same as it relates to ADSOM will be disappointed; it's almost as if Schwab went out of her way not to repeat herself. (Narratively, at least. It is still very much a continuation of that story and includes familiar elements.) A lot happens in this book and also not a lot happens in this book, in the sense that it feels like a setup for Some Goddamn Shit to go down in the third book.
A Gathering of Shadows is just as compulsively readable as A Darker Shade of Magic despite having a very different drive. It's got magic and knives and kissing and fighting and evil and cross-dressing and killing and there's just something unbearably fresh about all of it.