A Gathering of Shadows is the sequel to V E Schwab's A Darker Shade of Magic, a fantasy novel about parallel Londons, the one guy who can travel between them, and the thief from our Regency London who gets caught up in a dark scheme to destroy them all.
The series has fantastic world-building and incredibly compelling characters, and is an addictive read. A Darker Shade of Magic has (deservedly) received some Hugo buzz, and I, for one, was desperate to get my hands on Book Two.
In this instalment, Delilah Bard is pursuing her dreams of becoming a pirate as the official thief on the Night Spire, captained by the charming magician Alucard Emery. But she's starting to get too comfortable, to like these people too much, and she's getting the itch to run again. Meanwhile, Kell and Rhy are preparing for the Essen Tasch, an international magic tournament that should bring trust and peace after the horrors in A Darker Shade of Magic. Kell, exhausted by everyone's mistrust after those dark events, plans to compete in secret -- and so does magical newcomer, Lila Bard.
A Gathering of Shadows is very much a middle book. It's a good book, and it's an enjoyable book, but its purpose is to move the pieces from the mostly self-contained Book One to the even higher-stakes threat of Book Three. Most of the tension comes from anticipating when the characters will collide -- anticipating when Kell and Lila will finally meet again, anticipating when the quiet threat growing in the background will finally burst into the foreground. The tournament itself provides some fantastic moments and is a compelling plot, but we anticipate it a long time before it begins, and people wanting the same high stakes, fast-paced plotting of the first book will be disappointed.
But the characters are, once again, fantastic. Lila Bard is a great protagonist to read about -- so closed off, so angry, so desperate, charming, determined, adventurous, stubborn, and unwilling to let anything get in her way. The series is a little short on significant female characters, but those who do appear are perfect. I found the palace-based drama with Rhy and Kell a little less compelling, but events at the end of the previous book definitely add a new, interesting dimension to their relationship with one another and with the rest of society. Alucard, meanwhile, was a fantastic addition, and quickly became my favorite character.
If you enjoyed the first book, you'll enjoy this one, as Schwab expands on the world of Red London and digs deep into her character development. Just don't expect it to be quite as dramatic -- that kind of tension is clearly being reserved for the third and final book in the series.