Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Book Review - V.E. Schwab's A Gathering of Shadows

A Gathering of Shadows by V.E.Schwab
Published by: Tor Books
Publication Date: February 23rd, 2016
Format: Paperback, 512 Pages
Rating: ★★★★
To Buy

In four months a lot can change. Lives have been lost. Lives have been changed. Rulers have fallen. Worlds are in flux. In Grey London the natural succession has occurred on the death of the mad king. But in White London power is what you need to rule, and that comes from a surprising and dangerous source. A source that almost destroyed Red London four months ago on the Black Night when the prince died and his life was tethered to Kell's and Lila Bard, going against all her instincts, helped save a world by putting her neck on the line. Since that night Kell is virtually a prisoner of the crown. If something happens to him Rhy's life is in danger and therefore Kell must never be in danger. Frustrated and ashamed at his part in that deadly night he trains and trains to be the weapon he needs to be to protect Rhy. Lila Bard is also training. That night showed her that she has powers. She might come from a London where magic is dead, but there is magic in her. Reluctantly she is learning from Captain Alucard Emery of The Night Spire. She initially wanted to steal his ship and lead the life of piracy she always dreamt of, but it dawned on her that she doesn't know the first thing about ships and this is a good way to learn. But she is becoming complacent. Life should never be comfortable or safe and when the ship returns to London for the Essen Tasch, a magical tournament between the countries of Arnes, Vesk, and Faro, she decides that like her captain, she wants to compete. The problem is the competitors list is set. So she needs to steal an identity... but little does she know that Kell is also competing under another identity. Juggling multiple identities and The Essen Tasch are such distractions that it might be too late before our heroes realize that Red London is in danger. Again.

A Darker Shade of Magic is such a frenetic book literally taking place over the span of hours the relatively languid pace of A Gathering of Shadows tripped me up. I felt like this book was almost unnecessary to the Shades of Magic series and was wondering if perhaps Tor had told Schwab that they were only interested in trilogies at the time she was selling the series and she turned a duology into something more by just having our characters drag their heels through "The Hunger Games: Red London Edition." But I'd really like to take that back now. The thing with time is that opinions often change. I have often wondered how many books that I disliked and therefore sold I would like if I read at a later time and then I'm gripped by the opposite of buyers remorse, sellers remorse. What if I just got rid of a book I'll love years from now!?! I try not to dwell on those thoughts but re-reading A Gathering of Shadows kind of triggered my sellers remorse because literally what a difference a year made with me and this book, and oddly enough it was literally almost a year to the day! What I found as hundreds of pages of nothing happening turned into a character study where I finally had the luxury of connecting to the characters in a different way. The Essen Tasch which I viewed as the dominate theme of the book was now just something to highlight our characters flaws and strengths, nothing more or less. All the issues I had with Rhy and Kell's relationship previously, while not fully assuaged, I at least got to see them together more and understand their connection versus just being told that they were close. New characters, backstories, wish fulfillment, all these concepts are explored and they gave the series a depth it lacked before. So seriously, I was hasty to judge, so sorry.

Though there is one character I grew to dislike with all this added time I got to spend with her and that's Lila Bard. Oh Lila, I have so many issues with you and the truth is, I shouldn't! When I was younger I dreamt of being a pirate, adding thief and magician on top of that would have made me the happiest girl in the world. But I do. I have so many issues. I think once I realized you were written more as the reluctant anti-heroine in the vein of Becky Sharp I understood you more, but I still don't like you. OK, let's talk about why I dislike Lila! She self-sabotages anything good in her life, be it her berth aboard The Night Spire, or her friendships, because if she feels the least bit safe she runs. Now that's more a problem for a psychiatrist and I can understand where she's coming from even if I'm yelling at her to stay. What my issue boils down to is how selfish she is. Yes she's had a hard upbringing but that doesn't give her the right to screw people over to get what she wants and that is exemplified by her assuming the identity of Stasion Elsor. Stasion Elsor is a man who presumably worked his ass off to compete for Arnes in the Essen Tasch. Of ALL the magicians in Arnes, and seeing as Red London is so magically rich there are a lot of people who could compete, he was selected as one of the twelve competitors. And Lila takes that all away from him because he has the same build as her and she just attacks him in an alley and ships him off to a penal colony! WTF! How is that acceptable? Even Alucard is like, that's too much. Yes, she is using this to push those who have gotten close to her away, but more importantly it shows that she thinks that she deserves whatever she can take. I'm just not OK with this. Becky Sharp at least got what was coming to her and I have a feeling Lila won't.

Yet oddly enough Lila isn't the character I had the most problems with, that would be her captain, Alucard. Here's the thing about creating names in a fantastical story, they have to be close enough to English that you know they're like a more magical version of everyday names but at the same time be easy to read and easy to say. I can still remember LONG before there was a Game of Thrones TV series I went to a George R. R. Martin book signing for A Feast of Crows and almost all the questions asked were how to pronounce character names. Because readers want to know what this new name sounds like. So that there is rule one and Alucard passes that one with flying colors. Rule two is that the name shouldn't make you think of someone else in another story because it will take you out of the narrative. Alice Cooper in the Archie Comics does this for me but I will be quick to point out that the singer Alice Cooper actually came later so it's not the Comics fault. This is where Alucard fails MISERABLY. Because do you know what Alucard is? It's freaking Dracula spelled backwards! WTF Schwab!?! While Schwab claims "YOU GUYS ALUCARD EMERY IS NOT A VAMPIRE. I DIDN'T REALIZE HIS NAME WAS DRACULA SPELLED BACKWARDS I JUST LIKED IT" I call foul. HOW can you look at the name Alucard and NOT see Dracula? Not to mention several books, even ones by my friend Paul Magrs, use Alucard as Dracula's "in disguise" name. I mean seriously!?! And not one editor went, hey Schwab, do you mean to be referencing a book that in your series chronology doesn't come out for another 77 years!?! I just don't get how NO ONE caught this. It's just so freaking obvious and EVERY SINGLE TIME I read his name I inwardly groan and am taken out of the book. At one point I even thought of given him another name to not annoy me, but that just seemed like too much work. But it was Westley if you're interested.

Though I think for me, at least the first time I read this book, the biggest disappointment was the lack of Grey London. Those sections just draw me in every time. There's something about seeing Kell, such a magical being, in this normal historical setting that captures my imagination. Seeing the opposite with Lila in Red London just isn't the same. She was outside the bounds of polite society in her London, never fitting in there, and she's actually attempting to fit into Red London so there's no real excitement to be had in the dichotomy. But I think this is just my desire to make this book more of a traditional Regency Magic book... I should embrace it for it's differences not lament it because I want to see what would happen if the Prince Regent tried to kidnap Kell and force him to do magic for him. And yes, I really really wanted that to happen. But this is just me wanting to be surrounded by the familiar because it gives me comfort and if anything is a comfort read to me it's firstly Jane Austen and secondly anything Regency Magic. On top of this my favorite character is Edward Archibald Tuttle III, AKA Ned. Perhaps this is because I relate most to Ned, and he'd be SO happy I was referring to him as Ned, because that means we're friends, and we are. He lives in this dark grey world and has always believed in magic and he was proven right. Here's someone I can relate to, someone I can love. What's odd to me is going back to Lila, she's the character we're supposed to relate to because she's from our world and we're following her on her adventure, but she has so many negative traits I can never connect to her. Now if Ned was the one who went on this adventure? Well, it might be more interesting... Lila is a survivor and has proven her mettle on the street time and time again so of course she'll succeed, but could Ned? Now I'd read the heck out of that!


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