A Gathering of Shadows by VE Schwab

It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games–an extravagant international competition of magic meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries–a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

A Darker Shade of Magic introduced us to one of the more dynamic world-buildings of the last few years, and its combination of characterisation and magic was enchanting. The action, of course, took place mainly in an alternate London to ours, during the reign of George IV.

Following on from the first in the series, most of the action is again centred on Red London, with the majority of the narrative leading to the aforementioned tournament of magic.   Here, Schwab skilfully builds the tension, while introducing a myriad of new characters, the most remarkable of them undoubtedly Alucard Emery, who is weaved into the heart of the story over the course of this book.

There is a long enough lead up to the tournament, though, and it gives ample time to explore further the character of Lila Bard, who continues to kick ass as it if it were her right in whatever world she finds herself in.   She maintains her role as the most interesting character in this world.

The dynamics between Lila and Kell, and between Lila and Emery, in this book are great all round and in stark contrast to each other. Empathy abounds for Kell as he comes closer to becoming a real tragic figure, as he struggles to find his place.

The story itself is a well-contained one within this book, with lots of possible outcomes from the tournament. There’s also plenty left over for the next instalment, as the relative absence of the other Londons will almost certainly change.

A Gathering of Shadows confirms VE Schwab’s talent for world-building and characterisation. Her descriptions of people in particular are brilliant and evocative. A world that I look forward to re-visiting with the next in the series due in 2017.

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