A Conjuring of Light (Shades of Magic #3) by VE Schwab

The precarious equilibrium among four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity of magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving a space for another London to rise.

Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. And in the wake of tragedy, can Arnes survive?

Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

And an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown while a fallen hero tries to save a world in decay.

SPOILERS ABOUND for books 1 & 2

So we come to the inevitable conclusion of this frankly brilliant fantasy trilogy. I’ve been both ruing and looking forward to writing this review; I didn’t want it to end and I love talking about the characters in this series. Originally the concept of three (and later four) Londons with varying degrees of magic set some centuries ago grabbed my attention in A Darker Shade of Magic, but I had no idea in reading the first book that I would become so engrossed in the fate of these characters.

VE Schwab brought us the dynamic characters of the weight-of-the-world(s) Kell, messenger between Londons, and the fiery Lila Bard in A Darker Shade of Magic. Theirs was a tumultuous alliance, our role alongside Lila as a newcomer to the more magical Londons. A Gathering of Shadows put our heroes far away from each other, in distance at least, for the majority of the narrative and it proved to be a masterstroke. This was mainly due to the introduction of Alucard Emery who becomes a presence so strong you wonder how he wasn’t part of the story until A Gathering of Shadows. Add to this the great character building of Rhy and his (literal) connection to his stepbrother Kell, the king and queen of Maresh, Master Tieren the wise priest and Holland and you have a great setup for A Conjuring of Light.

Kell is the heart of the series, his bleeding heart morality almost being his downfall at times as he struggles with his very existence, as well as trying to look out for that which doesn’t need looking out for: Delilah Bard.

When last we left this world, we were smack-bang on the edge of a cliff, story-wise and it’s even touch and go for the first chapters of ACOL. 

The plot this time centres around a mysterious entity, neither flesh nor ghost, but manifested from magic itself. It seeks to control worlds and seems nigh on invincible, destroying precious characters with abandon throughout. In true fantasy style, nobody is safe here so be warned! The recurring motifs of the trilogy are to the fore in this instalment, particularly around colours, bonds and the potential that magic has for good and other.

Ingenuity is the name of the game in this trilogy-closer, with a variation of new settings, fight scenes and character moments. Such is the strength of the cast that the author can write almost every main character having an individual scene with another, so that we can clearly see the brittle yet powerful dynamic going on. There is particular joy to be found in the constant back and forth between Emery and Kell. Their hatred for each other is a soothing presence all the way through! Equally so, the contempt that Lila holds for Holland is felt strongly, and the feeling is more or less mutual. There are also great moments between Rhy and anyone he comes into contact with, as he grasps with his new reality, tethered as he is to Kell after the events of A Gathering of Shadows.

Because of the scope for all these character-developing scenes, ACOL is quite a long read compared to the others in the trilogy. As you can imagine, I didn’t mind at all as the pacing was even throughout and the twists and turns keep coming right up until the final page.

All this without mentioning Lila Bard. I’ll start with a quote:

‘My name is Lila Bard,’ she answered, drawing her favourite knife, ‘and I don’t give a damn.’

This is the kind of quote that makes me very happy. Lila Bard is the hero we don’t deserve. Coming from her meagre existence as a thief in “our” London, she has the most satisfying arc of any of the characters. She was our gateway into the other Londons and acquitted herself more than admirably throughout the course of the three books. She is quiet, cutting, murderous, determined, passionate, loyal and the most independent character of the lot. She is a thief, a pirate and now a magician. Her presence is so strong in this book that even in scenes with the flamboyance and pomp of people like Rhy and Emery, she shines through with simple actions. She is a woman of action and she gets things done. She is the kind of character I love to read in modern storytelling.

Very simply, if you’ve read the first two books, you’ll love A Conjuring of Light. If you haven’t read any, do it.


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