[Review] A Gathering of Shadows — Victoria Schwab

Book Title: A Gathering of Shadows 
           (A Darker Shade of Magic #01)
Author:     V.E. Schwab
Number of pages: 512


A Gathering of Shadows FinalFour 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.

(re: Goodreads @ A Gathering of Shadows by Victoria Schwab)

Should this book be picked up? the tl;dr review:

– Essen Tasch (The Element Games) is a Gladiator-style Avatar: The Last Airbender/Legend of Korra Pro-bending Competition (for comparisons sake)
– Slowly paced in the first quarter due to backstory and “catching up” with the timing
– On plot alone, AGOS can read like a “filler” second book but this arc focuses on character development
– Bromance game is strong; romance is more prominent
– A Nikolai Lantsov (Grisha) doppelganger who is wonderful (basically a witty, fluid, and grey character)


Initial Thoughts

When I finished, I was curled up in the fetal position…#themoreyouknow

There are no spoilers in this review unless you haven’t read A Darker Shade of Magic, then I can’t help you there.

Disclaimer: The copy I read was borrowed from Shelly @ Read, Sleep, Repeat. Thank you Shelly for letting me read this in advance.



Since I’m all about transparency, A Gathering of Shadows has that second book vibe sampling morsels of conflict foreshadowing what’s to come in finale without actually delving into that portion of the story. The Element Games (Essen Tasch) plot line is one that’s been seen before; which I can best describe as pro-bending sports in Avatar: The Last Airbender (or rather Legend of Korra) meets Gladiator. 

Normally, I’d wonder “where da plot? why? what is even?” but this transitional period is chock full of character development that, from a storytelling perspective, gives a sense of purpose to streamline the voice toward a character-driven narrative while the plot simmers beneath. With that in mind, I can’t really chirp the originality of the Essen Tasch (that much) because it still remains magically explosive (literally), incredibly engrossing (dialogue is laugh-out-loud) and the characters showcase organic and interesting motivations that aren’t necessarily bound by plot.


The structural world building in A Gathering of Shadows is luminous and utterly sublime. I hate to make comparisons but in the first book, there wasn’t that time and space to stretch out the kinks of the setting. With this part of the story heavily centering around Red London sheniganans, readers are able to witness the magically thriving London bloom even more from a political standpoint.

I hate to be that person who has to inflate the smallest of things but I felt as though the exploration of Antari magic read kind of diluted and underwhelming from a progression standpoint. The history behind Red London was presented rather holistically without gritty detailing of what I personally wanted to learn more of. It’ll probably come back full circle in the final book but it’s still a bummer for me.


This sequel reads fairly slow in the first quarter of the book with a mix of exposition and info-dumps easing the reader back into the world as if they were studying up on some flash cards. This is what I appreciate with fantasy writers like Schwab or Sanderson–they don’t just throw you to the wolves and assume you remember every little detail from the first installment given the learning curve of the magic system (e.g. different magic terms).

The writing is fluidly effortless given it’s 500+ page stature and the shift in POVs this time around is spread more evenly than the onus being on following Kell’s journey. I’m no good at critiquing multi-POV books because I automatically bow down to any story featuring a variety of unique voices. It’s entrancing, to say the least.

(Continued below)


If you’re a fan of witty bantering and snark, you will love this sequel. My first impression of this new character, Alucard Emery, (who is a level up of Nikolai Lantsov in The Grisha trilogy by Leigh Barudgo) is this: pirate? check. witty? check. fucks up all your ships? check. — you’ll understand why he is the best when you read AGOS.

More importantly, the bromance between Kell and Rhy is wonderful. This sibling-ish love was one of my favourite elements in A Darker Shade of Magic and it gets elevated to greater heights as backstory becomes unraveled juxtaposed against the tomfoolery of the everyday royal life. The feels are seriously unreal.

In truth, I didn’t think much of the romance in ADSOM because it felt disingenuous to push any relationship from a romantic front. This time around, the romance was a worthy addition as there was substance and meticulous slow burn planning to get to where these characters are. The feels, I repeat, are unreal.

One of my greatest appreciations for Schwab’s characterizations is her ability to pen complex–“grey”–characters. Delilah Bard experiences the most growth and this sequel is arguably hers to tell. While selfishness continues to headline her personality, her redemption as a character is far from being achieved–so you might have to stomach Lila doing Lila things for Lila.


The ending is fucking cruel…so cruel that I remain slumped in my chair upon finishing and held myself closely as I repeated “wat. wat. wat. wat. wat. wat.” — not that it was some unexpected cliffhanger or anything but because of how quick events escalated as it steps into the final arc.

I’m riding the hype train on this one. Lalalala.

Okay but real talk: can Macmillan or Tor get on designing a carbon copy of Kell’s coat? I would make it rain green if I could get that coat. Fuck.

This review proves I have a heart and can give solid books a good rating, yooou heaaar meeeeee?


connect: afterthoughtAn // twitter  |  anotherafterthought // goodreads


10 thoughts on “[Review] A Gathering of Shadows — Victoria Schwab”

  1. This review made me even more excited for AGOS. I didn’t think it was possible but obviously I was wrong.
    Have only read the first 6 chapters of AGOS (from the preview excerpt) and I liked Alucard already. SO glad to hear that the bromance game is strong. I badly need my Rhy fix.

    By the way, does this book still exude the YA vibe ala ADSOM?


  2. That ending! I was reading it on a kindle and it too me several failed swipes to realize that was the end. I’m reading savage song and I might read vicious to tide me over.


  3. Fuck yes for the romance sailing, I am dying with need for this book right now. I am ready to throw millions of shippy wallpapers into the world and writing a 1K+ review. Bring it on please.

    Although I have felt this even in the previous book: The Antari magic is very vague and poorly developed. I blamed this mainly on magic being wielded by only two characters in ADSOM though haha.

    And omg you loved a book, IDEK. But I am so happy ❤


  4. Ahhh I feel like this book has now become a necessity for me to read based off of everyone’s reactions – this was a really great review, super glad you enjoyed it and it lived up to everyone’s whims.

    I neeeeeeed the witty bantering and snark *nods violently*


  5. I am SO ready to sail on my shipping ship. Bring it on!! The closer we get to the release day the more impatient I get. I simply NEED this book.

    I’m all for solid character development and I am so excited to see more of the bromance.

    The fact that this book has made your heart go all warm and fuzzy is proof enough that this is an epic book. I can’t wait. 😀


  6. I thought the witty bantering in the first book was pretty good…can’t wait to read more of it in AGOS! 😀
    I’m so happy the bromance is also continued – I loved that about ADSOM, and how real it felt! 😀
    I can’t wait to read it now, Joey – why must you review and make me anticipate it this much?? 😦


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