(Reviewer’s note: While this review contains *no spoilers* for A Gathering of Shadows, it is impossible to write about a sequel without giving away some of the things that occur in the previous novel in the series.)
In this sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic (2015), V.E. Schwab (who writes young adult fiction as Victoria Schwab) returns to her multiverse of parallel Londons. A Gathering of Shadows is lighter in tone and slower to take off than the first book, but this allows for greater character development.
Lila Bard and Kell the Antari return as protagonists for his novel. Lila is a pickpocket from Grey London (that is, the “real” London in the early 19th century) who crossed over into Red London, where magic is commonplace, at the end of A Darker Shade of Magic. In search of adventure and driven by a desire to learn more about her own mysterious past, Lila joined the crew of the Night Spire, a privateering vessel captained by the charming Alucard Emery.
Alucard is much more than he appears. Although quite at home in the company of pirates, he is of noble blood and a gifted magician. He has a complicated history with Prince Rhy and his adopted brother Kell. As an aside, I kept waiting for this man whose name is Dracula spelled backwards to turn into a vampire, but it never happened. Perhaps something will be made of this in future novels, but for now, I found it distracting.
To save his brother in A Darker Shade of Magic, Kell forged a permanent magical bond with Rhy. This bond ensures that any injury suffered by one will be felt by the other—something they both occasionally abuse during fraternal squabbles. Because of this bond, the king and queen of Red London hold Kell in something like house arrest to keep him from accidentally killing the crown prince. Unsurprisingly, Kell bristles at this treatment.
One of the major antagonists from the first book returns. Holland, the only other surviving Antari, managed to claw his way out of the dead world that once housed Black London. Something powerful and terrible hitched a ride with him as he returned to White London, a cutthroat land where people fight to drain all the magic they can from both the environment and each other. With newfound power, Holland has taken control and even started to restore color to this world of ash. But his power comes with a cost, and he needs someone else to bear that cost, someone like his old rival Kell.
But the scenes involving Holland—literally the “gathering of shadows” promised by the title—appear sporadically throughout the novel, far outweighed by the fundamentally frivolous Essen Tech. There are also a few hints at a potential future conflict between nations in the world of Red London, but the tone is otherwise rather light. The main action centers around a tournament of magicians called the Essen Tach, which bears more than a slight resemblance to the Triwizard Tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (2000).
Alucard Emery enters the tournament. As an Antari, Kell is too powerful to fairly trade spells with mortal opponents. But the boredom of his confinement pushes Kell, with Rhy’s help, to concoct a plan to enter the tournament using an alias. And Lila, whose own magical ability was discovered by Kell and encouraged by Alucard, waylays a competitor to steal his spot. The most interesting aspect of the tournament is that for Kell or Lila to win, their deceptions would be revealed, so both must eventually throw a match that could easily turn deadly. Especially when the two are paired against each other…
The pace of the novel is fairly slow up until the final pages when we get, in Schwab’s words, “the dreaded cliffhanger.” This abrupt ending left me wanting more (always a good thing), but also a little unsatisfied (not so good). I have no problem with leaving some plotlines to resolve in the third book, but would have preferred at least a few of them to wrap up here. And this makes it difficult to assess A Gathering of Shadows, for whether Schwab succeeded or failed won’t be clear until (at least) the third book in the series.
But I’m certainly going to read it to find out.