There will be some spoilers for A Darker Shade of Magic, as well as some minor spoilers for A Gathering of Shadows.
“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.”
It’s very difficult for me to rate this novel, because it was one of those books that kind of felt like it dragged for the first half or so, but then picked up speed at the end… a lot of speed. As in, it was like slamming into a brick wall when I reached the last page and saw that it was the end.
A large part of the story was building up tension for the Essen Tasch (Element Games) so that although a fair amount of stuff happened, nothing of importance was really mentioned. It felt like an awkward contrast when compared to the action-packed tension of the first book. It sort of followed the Hunger Games/Catching Fire models, where the first one was fairly action-packed (as most of it dealt with Katniss trying to survive both the Capitol and the Hunger Games itself) and a good portion of the second one was just the aftermath of the Games and the preparation for the Quarter Quell.
Worse still, I’m not entirely sure what the point of the Games were, in the entire scheme of things. It offered us a chance to see Kell and new character Alucard flaunt how powerful they are, and for us to see Lila learn more about herself and what Tieren meant in A Darker Shade of Magic when he said she wasn’t ordinary. But I feel like there might better ways to show that beyond a game.
Don’t get me wrong, seeing Lila compete was pretty awe-inspiring, not because she was especially good, but because there was a definite struggle as she tried to learn the rules of this new London. Plus… I mean… who doesn’t love Lila? She’s one of the few female characters I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting who was only wild and adventurous because she wanted to be, not because she was running away from anything (although, to be fair, who knows just how much Delilah Bard’s past is affecting how she acts in the present).
I loved the interaction between Lila and Alucard. Then again, Lila in general is just crazy and fierce and totally awesome. I also loved the tension between Rhy and Kell, although they tried so hard to pretend it wasn’t really there. It was a bit difficult, at first, to really accept how much Rhy had changed since the… erm… climatic events of the previous book *cough cough*. It was stated, endlessly, repeatedly, that both Rhy and Kell were getting restless, but we didn’t really get to see enough of Rhy in the previous book to know what he was like before the climatic event. But we got to see a lot of Rhy during this book, so even if we didn’t really know how much he’s changed in the four months since A Darker Shade of Magic, we can see how he is now, and how Kell is now, and it makes for a better story.
Even if, reading the story, it didn’t feel like there was a WHOLE LOT propelling the plot forward, there was certainly a lot of tensions between characters that did feel real and read well. I can’t fault Schwab for that.
And all throughout the novel, Schwab preps her story for the very last book in the series. The ultimate villain gets his own point of view chapters, and these chapters slowly build towards the ultimate climax of A Gathering of Shadows, ultimately setting us up for the final conflict in the third book of the series. They’re intense, and strange, and really quite curious.
And let me tell you, that ending was perhaps the cruelest cliffhanger I’ve ever had the fortune of reading. I was expecting the climax to be coming up and Scwab just ended it right before the big shebang and my heart still hurts. Do yourselves a favor, my friends, and hold off until closer to February (when the third book is due to be released, I believe) before reading this book. Otherwise you will be looking for answers that haven’t been released yet.
I will give this book overall four stars, because even though it felt like it dragged a bit in the beginning, we still got to see tension with Lila, with Kell and Rhy, and with the villain (whose name I refuse to say). And once the action picked up, I couldn’t put the book down until I was at the last page. Whew.
“I’m sorry.”He sounded so… earnest, which made Lila instantly suspicious. Alucard was many things, but genuine wasn’t usually one of them.
“For growing on me?” she asked.
He shook his head. “For whatever happened to you. For whoever hurt you so deeply that you see things like friends and fondness as weapons instead of shields.” Lila felt the heat rising to her cheeks.
“It’s kept me alive, hasn’t it?”
“Perhaps. But life is pointless without pleasure.”