Review: A Gathering of Shadows

Book Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
A Gathering of Shadows cover Book title A Gathering of Shadows
Series Shades of Magic #2
Author V.E. Schwab
Pages 512
Year published 2016
Category | Genre Adult | High Fantasy, Parallel Universes
Rating 4.5 stars


Official Summary

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like 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.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—meaning that another London must fall.

“A magical kick-ass sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic”

Frequent visitors of this blog would have noticed my slightly unhealthy obsession with A Darker Shade of Magic. It’s no wonder that A Gathering of Shadows was one of my most anticipated 2016 releases. I read it the moment my preorder was delivered to my ebook reader. Was AGOS the sequel I was hoping it to be? Nope, not at all. It completely went the other direction from what I thought I wanted. I had hoped for answers and explanation about what happened, but what AGOS is, it’s all about the future and consequences. And somehow I think I like it better this way.


In A Gathering of Shadows, Red London is preparing to host a magic competition called Essen Tasch, with magicians from its neighboring countries, Faro and Vesk, also taking part. The result is what one would expect: even more magic, (slightly) more politics, and tons of fun(?) interactions.


Not gonna lie, I’ve grown attached to these characters. Kell and Lila still take the center stage in A Gathering of Shadows, but a myriad of new characters were introduced, most notably is a pirate captain named Alucard Emery. There are others too, mostly magicians came to compete in Essen Tasch and the ship crews captained by Emery. Character development is totally on point, especially when it came to the crown prince, Rhy Maresh. We get to see a lot more Rhy in A Gathering of Shadows, and I’m definitely not complaining. Where in A Darker Shade of Magic, we only saw Rhy’s charming exterior, in this sequel Schwab gave us a glimpse into his head, and that made him even more relatable. His banters with Kell are part of what A Gathering of Shadows so precious. (Yes, I just used the word precious to describe a book).
If there’s a downside of introducing so many characters is that it’s so hard to keep track of them all. I’ll be honest with you, I gave up trying to remember which ship crew did what halfway through the book. But then again, maybe it’s because I didn’t pay enough attention to them earlier?


In A Darker Shade of Magic, we learned about the four Londons and the travels were mostly done between worlds. In A Gathering of Shadows, Schwab showed us that her world was not limited to London by introducing Red London’s neighboring countries, Faro and Vesk. Due to the circumstances in the book, however, we didn’t learn much about the actual countries, rather Schwab brought us the people, royals and magicians, into Red London. This, unavoidably, led to party and political interaction between the royals. However, if you wish for more politics and court drama, you’re a little out of luck. There aren’t much court drama in A Gathering of Shadows, saved for a certain princess. Perhaps, we will see more of these Lords and Princes in book three since I cannot imagine Schwab introducing them without any agenda.
Overall, I did wish to learn a bit more about the Faroan and the Veskan magicians and royals, but I appreciate Schwab’s effort to expand her world.

On magical side, there’s also an expansion. Where A Darker Shade of Magic focused on blood magic, A Gathering of Shadows is all about elemental magic. Earth, air, water, fire, each magician could control at least one of them, and some even two or three. They fight by manipulating these elements. And boy wasn’t that fun?!

Plot and narrative

It’s easy to complain that the Essen Tasch felt a little rushed, especially at the end. And maybe that’s true. The way I see it, however, was that Schwab used the competition to advance her story and characters growth. The actual ‘winning the competition’ itself is not essential like in Hunger Games (or Red Rising, if you will). It was not about life and death, and in a way, I found it refreshing that Schwab didn’t succumb to the temptation of giving the magical one-on-one combat a larger proportion than it merits. Sure, I admitted before, it was a lot of fun seeing the magical tricks and scheming done by each magician, but I found the less magical interactions between the characters to be at least as interesting and somehow more essential to the plot. Feel free to disagree with me, though.

The book itself started out well-paced, balancing between friendly banters and actions. In the last third or so, however, it really took off, like REALLY running REALLY fast. If you’re like me, and I don’t wish the feeling I had to anyone, you’ll be flipping the last few pages super fast and then stared at the acknowledgements with disbelief look upon your face.

Do I like that ending? HAHAHAHA.


A Gathering of Shadows offers a magical experience and it was highly enjoyable. I got a new book to obsess on for sure.
As for the ending, it is great if you enjoy the sensation of dangling in the air in a chairlift when the ride stops moving and you start to laugh hysterically because what else is there to do?

Final score

4.5 stars
4.5 stars (out of 5 stars)

Let me know, have you read A Gathering of Shadows or do you plan to read it? If you have read it, what do you think about the book? Do you like it better than A Darker Shade of Magic? Feel free to agree and disagree with my thoughts about it.

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11 thoughts on “Review: A Gathering of Shadows

  1. I loved this book as well – it really improved on one of a few things that I felt ADSOM was lacking : character development. We had so much world building in the first book that the characters sort of took 2nd place, but this time, with the most of the action happening in Red London, the characters were fleshed out so much more and had so much more to them. Can’t wait for the next book!

    1. I really liked ADSOM, but I agree with you it was mostly exciting because of the magic and the world introduced to us. Now that you mentioned it, I realize that ADSOM was indeed lacking in that aspect. Overall, I think this is a better book than ADSOM mostly because the character development took center stage.
      I hope the third book is even better! 🙂

  2. I really like how the competition wasn’t the main point of the story – like the character’s didn’t necessarily have to win to move to story on. I feel like too many books are focused around some competition lately. I mean, there’s the hunger games like you said. Throne of Glass starts as a competition. The 2nd book of the bone season has a competition sort of thing. Even in Harry Potter there’s Goblet of Fire with the Triwizard Tournament! Quite good to see a different take on it!

  3. I agree about the competition. In books authors always seem to make them all about winning. It was refreshing to read one where the competition was executed in this way. Also agree that the course of this book was not at all what I expected. Still hoping the conclusion will have answers, though I won’t mind seeing even more of Red London even after reading nearly an entire book focused on that parallel world.

    1. Yes, it’s really refreshing. I am glad she didn’t turn her MCs into special snowflakes in the competition, and that they just moved on after that.
      I hope so, I could see that she might not want to focus on the characters’ past, but like you I want answers. I also want more Red London. I want everything. Bring on 800 pages ADSOM3. Hahaha.

      1. *spoilers* Yes, if either of them had won the competition, Lila in particular with her lack of experience, it could have come across that way.

        Maybe we’ll get lucky and there will be a fourth book or spin-off series? 🙂

  4. I loved ADSOM – a lot – but found Gathering ultimately fell flat. The pirate adventures were vaguely interesting but did not serve the plot at all. The Games were highly derivative and also served no point. Similarly Kell’s visit to the Grey London King. And introducing all the other Red London empires and their respective nobles in such great and useless detail seemed like lazy padding – when you had multiverse to explore and a battle between good and evil underway.

    1. Thank you for the honest and thoughtful comment, Nick!
      As much as I liked AGOS, I could understand where you’re coming from. Essen tasch is in no way original, though I really enjoyed it. The magic system introduced, elemental magic, is also nothing new. And as you mentioned, I did wish to see more of the other Londons. After reading the synopsis, I expected more than 2 pages description of what was happening in Black London. :p Here’s hoping all the buildup was not for nothing.

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