A Gathering of Shadows is a second installment of the Shades of Magic series by V. E. Schwab. It’s a fantasy novel set in four parallel Londons each separated long time ago, and only a special type of blood magicians called Antari can cross between the worlds.
In this article I’ll focus solely on the second book and the seven things I really enjoyed and consider very well executed and one thing I think had a potential for improvement.
1. Shift from Kell to Lila as a main character
Even though I liked Kell and he is a starter point for the entire story in my opinion a character of fully developed prince magician who doesn’t quite fit into his family can only get you so far. Lila Bard had much more potential. Although I have some issues with the construction of the story when she first appeared in A Darker Shade of Magic, she developed into interesting, funny, complex character with a potential to carry a story entirely on her own. In the second book the balance between story time devoted to Lila and Kell is very well achieved and I enjoyed every moment spent following Lila’s adventures.
2. Development of side characters
In contrast with the first book where side characters were scarce and poorly developed the second book improved greatly. Rhy and Holland got more screen time and now they seem like a proper persons not just props for Lila and Kell. Also, many new characters were introduced, and the writer did a pretty good job introducing them. We get to know the ship’s crew, the competitors in the tournament and the royals. Alucard Emery as a personal favorite is a great asset to the story. He is well developed, interesting, has a good background story, I loved reading about him, and he is a great partner for Lila (more about it later).
3. Maritime setting
This one is just a personal preference, but I really like stories set at sea. I love ships, pirates, the open sea, and everything that goes with it. A ship can make a really unique place of action for a story. It is limited by the size, the layout and the weather so it ads up to the story almost as another character.
4. Tournament/ competition
Another personal preference, I like competitions in books (The Hunger games, Throne of Glass, The Deepest Blue…). The Essen Tasch (Element games) competition was well done, it was interesting to read about the competitors, their costumes, and magical abilities. I liked that it was just a competition, it didn’t have any “saving the universe” meaning behind it. Having Lila, Kell and Alucard all compete was a lot of fun. Everything was fast paced and did not linger to much on one thing.
5. Alucard/ Lila relationship
The two of them were adorable together. I love the light banter, the quirky remarks, how they function together on the Night Spire. Alucard as Lila’s mentor was a great option, I only wish we saw more of their training sessions. Alucard on its own was a great asset to the story. He has everything a good character has to have, personality, background story, a little bit of mystery. I think that a good choice was for Alucard to see Lila for what she was even before she knew it, that completes his role as mentor to her.
6. Not including Osaron until the very end
At this moment Osaron has a potential to be a solid antagonist but as I said I liked Essen Tasch without menacing presence and bigger evil to fight. The story was focused on the characters and their relationships while Osaron could develop independently in White London alongside Holland.
The games served as a focal point for the entire book without much interference by other storylines and events, the plot was clean and precise. The time period encompassed around two weeks overall. It was refreshing for me to have a simple concept book without many subplots and events.
What could be improved?
In my opinion I would like to see Lila’s and Alucard’s relationship develop more. I’m not opposed to him being in love with Rhy and I don’t necessarily want him to end up with Lila, I know love triangles are far too common in literature but that “romantic” scene between them was great, there was more passion on that two pages than between Lila and Kell in all three books. Furthermore, Lila and Alucard being together would create extreme tensions with Kell who already hates Alucard. His previous relation with Rhy, his influence, position, persona, everything is opposed to Kell so their romantic relationship would aggravate him even more which could lead to some interesting moves on Kell’s side.