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.
I feel kinda bad for not liking this book because everyone else did and I still like one of the characters enough to be in the fandom (kind of), but it just didn’t work for me.
But first, the good. In my review of A Darker Shade of Magic I mentioned that the worlds beyond the three (well, four) Londons weren’t explored enough, but here in A Gathering of Shadows they are (or, at least, Red London’s world is) and I quite liked the worldbuilding. The two other nations that participate in the Elemental Games are really interesting.
I think this book is a fine example of the book two syndrome. It is a very transitional book, so to speak, where the really important things to the plot only happen in the last pages. Most of the book is the characters going from point A to point B (in Lila’s case) or just talking (Rhy, Kell and Holland). The Element Games mentioned in the blurb? They only happen after the 60% mark and everything before that is just a really long preparation for them.
And these games… Are they important to the plot? Nope. They are not. I kept waiting for a connection but there wasn’t one. The games are not completely useless, of course; they work as a way of developing the characters, which I can understand, but it feels like 90% of this book was just character development and 10% was plot. And that made everything extremely boring.
As for the characters, well, I only care for Rhy. I love him. He’s the sole reason I’ll read the third book; I need to know how this series end for him, and I also really enjoy his relationship with Kell because siblings who care for each other are my weakness, but Kell by himself is… dull. I don’t care for him at all, and also don’t care for Holland.
Lila is still everything I want to see in a female character, but somehow I still don’t care about her either. I blame the characterization here; it’s even more forced than in the first book (the whole writing sounded so… obvious. It’s like.. I don’t know, I kinda could tell what it was trying to make feel, but because of that I wasn’t affected by it. Does that make sense?). I had a hard time believing her motivations to participate in the Element Games and had a even harder time believing that she won (sometimes) against people who have been using magic their whole life when she learned about it four months ago.
My other problem with Lila is how she borders on the girl-who-isn’t-like-the-other-girls stereotype. She isn’t one, of course, but the way she talks about feminine things (with disdain/contempt) bothers me. I have no problem at all with her being masculine (in fact, I tend to relate better with female characters who aren’t that feminine, but I am transmasculine, so there’s that), but she is the only important female character in the series and interacts mainly with men; her whole why-do-women-do-this-to-themselves (when talking about a dress) doesn’t really sound good when you stop to think about that.
Her romance with Kell was a big snore-fest for me. I don’t care about either and the whole thing happens too fast for my aromantic soul. Well, to be honest, not even Rhy’s “romance” was that exciting for me. I didn’t care for Alucard and I had no investment in their relationship (mainly because, you know, they have like, 3 scenes together? And yeah I know they had a thing a few years ago, but why should I care about it if I never got to see them together for real? I don’t). I so wanted to like the queer couple but I’m not here for a hint of an (apparently) almost dead relationship. Maybe in the next book.
In conclusion, weak plot + characters I didn’t care about + awful pacing + boring romances ruined this book for me. Like I said above, I will still read the third book. Because Rhy is the bisexual prince of my heart.
2.5 stars to A Gathering of Shadows.