Warning: may contain spoilers from A Darker Shade of Magic
A Gathering of Shadows picks up a few months after the events of its predecessor, and Schwab wastes no time in launching her audience right into the action. Delilah Bard, our feisty and morally ambiguous female protagonist, is living and loving her life as a cross-dressing semi-pirate. Kell and Rhy are together, and closer than ever, in more ways than one. Their lives are very literally tied to each other, resulting in a tension in their relationship and a closer connection simultaneously. Kell also finds his relationship with his royal family slowly deteriorating; the king and queen seem to not trust him as much as they used to. He finds himself surrounded by guards who constantly monitor and report his every move. Kell feels suffocated, but what can he do? When the Element Games roll into town, bringing old friends and foes huddling back to Red London, Kell and Rhy see an opportunity to restore some of who they once used to be.
“I know where you sleep, Bard.”
She smirked. “Then you know I sleep with knives.”
The sequel to V. E. Schwab’s A Darker Shade of Magic was bound to impress, but I’m surprised by just how much. While the book is not advancing the ongoing plot of the series, it does wonders for characterization. All our characters have been altered drastically since the wonders and horrors of the events of ADSoM, yet Schwab is careful with their development. We see new flaws arise, new strengths bloom. We see their personalities shift, but they never feel like different people. I cannot pinpoint their characterizations from Point X to Point Y- it occurs on a spectrum that blends and shifts with each occurring event, resulting in a strong cast of people who feel three-dimensional, relatable and entirely realistic. Schwab’s ability to intertwine the stories of these characters, and develop meaningful yet complex relationships with each other is something I can only hope to do in my own writing. Her platonic relationships hold just as much weight as her romantic ones, if not even more. Kell’s relationship with Rhy is almost tangible- I felt like I could reach out and touch the very thread that bound them. More than that perhaps, Kell’s inner turmoils when it came to family actually made me cry, as if I was the one suffering. That’s one hell of an accomplishment, Victoria!
“What brings you to my room?” he asked, relief bleeding into annoyance.
“Adventure. Intrigue. Brotherly concern. Or,” continued the prince lazily, “perhaps I’m just giving your mirror something to look at besides your constant pout.”
Kell frowned, and Rhy smiled. “Ah, there it is! That famous scowl.”
On a similar note, I’ll refrain from saying too much about this as to avoid spoilers, but Schwab integrates diversity so perfectly into this novel. We have an LGBTQ+ character, but it’s never made a big deal of. This aspect of the character is just there, because it’s completely normal; no show of ‘coming out.’ No, it exists. It’s human, and that’s that.
“Politics is a dance until the moment it becomes a war. And we control the music.”
Moreover, The Element Games were a fascinating way of incorporating world-building, politics and the magic system without simply shoving it in our faces. Schwab made these parts work together in a seamless manner while keeping the reader entertained. The Element Games do very little when it comes to plot advancement, but work well in the way that they add a little more cohesiveness to the world this series operates in.
“Fix your crown, my prince,” he called back as he reached the door. “It’s crooked.”
All in all, I had little to no complaints about this novel. Perhaps the only thing that stopped me from giving it a full, perfect five-star rating was how little series-plot there was in it, but the book was so fucking glorious without it that I couldn’t help but give it a near-perfect rating. If you didn’t much care for A Darker Shade of Magic, I urge you to continue on with the series. Because I feel a boom coming in the finale, and I’m not ready to stop reading about these wonderful characters just yet.