A Gathering of Shadows (Darker Shade of Magic)
by V.E. Schwab
Cover Artist: Will Staehle
Review by Bill Lawhorn
Tor Books Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780765376473
Date: 23 February 2016 List Price $25.99 Amazon US / Amazon UK
To save his brother Rhy's life, Kell gave up a part of himself. That singular action drives the vast majority of the plot in A Gathering of Shadows. Black London was forcibly separated to protect White, Grey, and Red London from the deterioration which was ruining Black London. Now, the worlds are realigning and becoming closer portending greater changes.
These changes are noticeable in Grey London. First, Delilah Bard develops magic to a degree which should not be possible. Next the leadership is changing and the view of magic and its role will also change. Finally, more magic seems to be available than should be the case.
Red London is at peace. The Crown Prince lives and the Element Games, Essen Tasch, are coming. Kell should be at peace as well, but he strains at the bonds he created and fights boredom. Elsewhere Lila is at sea and learning to make her way in this new world. As she discovers her depths, she hatches a daring plot.
Grey London is ravaged by the civil war which broke out after the Danes fell. Each new leader emerges only to be pulled down. The world suffers the depredations of this constant warfare. But there is hope for improvement and rebirth, but the cost is greater than anyone can imagine
Black London, once thought safely sealed away, is once more involved in the affairs of the worlds. Holland, left to die, plays a role in reawakening the menace thought contained.
The Essen Tasch is the true centerpiece of the story. All roads lead to the stadiums of Red London. It is through the games that readers learn about other lands and see power at its most majestic. The magic system comes out in greater detail through the matches and the preparation. The games are a series of duels and battles to help rank magic users and show the power and control of each country's magic users.
The vast majority of the action takes place on Red London's world. The action in the other Londons is important and each trip gives a deeper understanding of the worlds. I hope there is more detail of the other Londons in the concluding volume. I wonder about the levels of magic in each world and how much expectation forms reality.
A Gathering of Shadows is the second novel in the planned trilogy. What it isn't, is a typical middle novel. Schwab created an Empire Strikes Back, a story that exceeded the original and leaves fans wanting more. Too many times the second part is solely a set up for the final push with everyone being positioned for the final action. That said, readers do need to start with A Darker Shade of Magic. There is too much back story to jump right in and not be lost.
I know some have compared V.E Schwab to Neil Gaiman. If the comparison is to moving towards rock star status, I guess it is fair. If it is a comparison to writing styles, I'll disagree. Schwab is a much better read.
Return to the Four London's and be captivated by the last Anatari and his friends and foes.