5 March 2016

Review: A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab

A Gathering of Shadows
VE Schwab
Tor, 23 February
HB, 512 pp

I bought my copy of this book from The Book Depository (it's the US edition, because I wanted a hardback).

This book was (by me, anyway) eagerly anticipated. The second part of a series (after A Darker Shade of Magic), it returns to the magical world of Red London and to the lives of Kell, Rhy and Lila Bard.

Rhy is the heir to the kingdom, but has no magical ability.

Kell is a powerful young magician, Rhy's adopted brother and one of a very few who can cross between the worlds, between "Grey" London (our world, bare of magic), enchanted "Red" London and bone- hued, dying "White" London. As a magician, he serves the King, carrying messages between the worlds - and in the previous book, he dabbled with carrying other things, too, leading to trouble. As a result his wings are now clipped, and he's pretty frustrated.

Lila is a swashbuckling heroine and thief who came from Grey London and, at the end of ADSOM, was contemplating life as a pirate. Here we see what became of her on the high seas as she waits, cast adrift in a small boat, hands bound and awaiting her fate...

While picking up only a few months after the end of ADSOM, AGOS opens with a quite different tone. While the other book is action almost from the start, the pace here is slower. We learn a lot about Rhy and Kell (whose lives ended up magically linked in the last book, so that if one experiences pain, so does the other). The book isn't a reset: there are consequences. Kell is under suspicion, Rhy is racked with guilt at the price his friend paid and Schwab develops the feelings of the siblings rather at leisure - if you're expecting the book to open with a bang, you might be disappointed although what we get instead - a measured, mature explanation of two compelling characters - is equally absorbing.

We also learn more about Lila, and her relationship with her pirate (sorry, privateer) captain, Alucard (I know!) Lila is, as we saw before, incredibly prickly and defensive: she's also pretty ruthless (she has no compunction at killing) so you can expect sparks to fly.

Throw in, as the book develops, an international magical games in London (think London 2012 with spells) and a past relationship between Alucard and Rhy, and you get a heady mix. I enjoyed the way that Schwab uses perhaps familiar ideas but in a subtly new way to illustrate the characters of, especially, Lila and Kell.

It must be tempting, when writing a series like this, for the second book to be essentially a rehash of the what worked the first time and it's to the author's credit that she doesn't do that here. I think some readers may bridle slightly at the fact that the red London vs White London vs Black London plot strand isn't to the fore through most of the book, as it was before, but we do learn a bit about goings on in White (and even Grey!) London and I'm sure these will feature in the next book (and I don't think it's a spoiler to say there surely will be a next book).

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