Audiobook Review: A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab
A review copy was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating (Overall): 4 of 5 stars
Series: Book 2 of A Darker Shade of Magic
Publisher: Macmillan Audio (February 23, 2016)
Length: 16 hrs and 9 mins
Narrators: Michael Kramer, Kate Reading
The moment I learned that Kate Reading and Michael Kramer would be performing the audio edition of A Gathering of Shadows, I knew this was the only format of the book I wanted. I’m a big fan of the audiobook power couple, who has narrated a bunch of my favorite fantasy series including Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archive, and I couldn’t have been more thrilled when I saw both their names attached to this sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic.
The story begins approximately four months after the first book. Without spoiling anything beyond what’s already in the publisher description, this is a relatively short time for the characters to come to terms with all that’s happened, considering the widespread repercussions. White London’s creepy rulers the Dane twins may have been dealt with, but that ordeal has nonetheless changed brothers Kell and Rhy’s lives forever. The antagonist Holland was also vanquished through the rift to Black London, left for dead with the shadow stone, the pesky thing that started all this trouble in the first place.
But when all was said and done, Lila Bard had decided to walk away, leaving Kell with only his memories and the guilt. This prompts Rhy to sneak Kell into the upcoming Element Games (which is kind of like this world’s Olympics of magic) in the hopes that it would cheer his brother up. Meanwhile, Lila has stuck around in Red London, meeting up with a pirate crew and becoming their best thief. However, her captain turns out to be one of the most talented magicians in the realm, and his intention to compete in the Games also steers their ship towards the capital. Little do our characters know, they’ll all be seeing each other again very soon—and unfortunately, that doesn’t preclude old enemies showing up as well.
The good news is, I liked A Gathering of Shadows more than the first book. I wouldn’t say A Darker Shade of Magic was a disappointment exactly, but I had also expected a lot more from V.E. Schwab, after she first blew me away with Vicious. Despite its unique premise and the excellent world-building, ADSOM was missing an edge somehow, and I could only point to the lackluster characters. In spite of their interesting backstories, Kell and Lila both suffered from having standard personalities and no remarkable presence. Still, I enjoyed the fast-paced narrative and the action-filled plot, and thought that ending set things up nicely for a sequel. I knew I was intrigued enough to want to continue the series, and it was my hope that the characters will finally grow on me.
And in a lot of ways, they did. I’m still not completely invested in Lila, but unless there’s an overhaul to her personality and she becomes less obnoxious, I doubt I ever will. She’s all about the grandiosity but weak on substance, and every time she opened her mouth to spout about running away from good things, I wanted to roll my eyes. Happily, Kell on the other hand has become a much more interesting character. The drastic changes he went through in the first book has transformed him into a protagonist I actually want to root for, going from the spoiled child who doesn’t realize how good he has it, to the man who self-sacrifices for the sake of others.
The story is also so much better! The Element Games was obviously the centerpiece of this novel, and I liked the excitement surrounding it. The only negative is how long it took to build up to the event, and the somewhat flimsy reasons for Kell and Lila to get involved. The insanity of the tournament and explosive action of the magician duels in the matchups are well worth the wait though, and the second half of the book is definitely a lot stronger than the first. Relationships between the characters are getting twistier and there’s also a side plot bringing back something from the past to haunt them again. Obviously we’ve not seen the last of Black London, and its rise will mean very bad things for all the other versions.
Plus, I think I made a great choice going with the audiobook version. With respect to Steven Crossley who did an excellent job narrating the first book, A Gathering of Shadows worked even better for me because of having two narrators. Michael Kramer read Kell’s perspective chapters, bringing the character to life. Kate Reading was great too, even though her voice was probably less of a match for the younger, less-refined thief Lila. There’s a reason why they’re two of my favorite narrators though, because they can make almost anything work.
Overall, I’m glad I decided to continue with this series because I was hoping I would like the second book better than the first—and I did. The abrupt ending was kind of cruel, but it was an effective cliffhanger to make me even more curious about book three. A solid sequel, and I look forward to see what will happen next.
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