I received this book for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. This has in no way affected my opinion of the book or my review below.
Synopsis from Goodreads:
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 think it’s pretty clear what my thoughts are on this book just from the image you see above. This review of sorts isn’t going to be long because I don’t have much to say. I am crushingly disappointed. This book suffered from a horrendous case of middle book syndrome. What’s middle book syndrome you ask? It’s when the second book of a series acts as a filler book of sorts. It doesn’t advance the plot and not much happens. I talked about this with Ice Like Fire the second book in the Snow Like Ashes series.
A Gathering of Shadows suffers from a severe case of middle book syndrome.
At first, I thought it was just a slow start. Slow starts I can live with. I appreciate when an author sets up the plot right even if that means I have to wait 100 pages to get there. But then I hit the 200 page mark. And then I hit the 300 page mark. And then I hit the 450 page mark and FINALLY something happens. 50 pages more and I’m left with a horrible cliffhanger. I worked hard to get through those 500 pages! And what was my reward? A fucking cliffhanger. After 450 pages of nothing of significance happening. Please excuse me while I attempt to rinse the sour taste out of my mouth.
Reading a 500 page book where nothing happens only to be rewarded with a cliffhanger really pissed me off.
I get that it took her time to set up the big side plot that’s going to be central in the last book. Yeah that was vague, but spoilers. But I would rather have had the book take place a year after A Darker Shade of Magic with just some quick fill-in details then sit through a bullshit competition and filler material while the side plot grows and develops. Pierce Brown successfully does this in Red Rising. Golden Son takes place two years after the first book and Morning Star takes place a year after the second. That way we didn’t have to sit through the boring parts with Darrow in school and…other places (again, vague because spoilers) and got right to the good stuff. Why didn’t Victoria do that with this book???
You heard me mention a bullshit competition right? Yeah… It’s call the Element Games and it’s an elaborate, ostentatious competition between the best mages in the three kingdoms. The whole thing felt done before.
I’m so tired of Hunger Game like competitions appearing in books everywhere.
It’s been done! It’s tired. It’s used up. Please stop. If the competition had served a purpose I could have maybe gotten past this. But it didn’t. I didn’t buy into Kell or Lila’s reasons for entering. I thought they were shallow and selfish and stupid. Which brings me to my next point…
Things come way to easy for Delilah Bard.
In the last book I felt like Lila had to fight. But in this book it’s like everything she wants falls right into her lap. She’s known about magic for four whole months and suddenly she’s good enough to go up against the top mages in the three kingdoms? Seriously. Come on. No one is believing this. Not a single person. Lila just kind of annoyed me in this book. She’s constantly pushing people away which obviously that’s part of her character, but I didn’t see her growing or developing on that front at all. I saw her doing the same things. She was unlikeable in this book. Harsh, cruel and unforgiving. She kills people and doesn’t even think twice about it and that bothered me.
The relationship between Rhy and Kell changed. A lot. Not for the good.
Obviously after the events in A Darker Shade of Magic I knew that their relationship would be different. But not this different. They clearly still love each other like brothers, but nothing is the same. Rhy isn’t the same funny, light, cheerful person. Kell walks on eggshells everywhere he goes. It was tense the entire book. Again, I get that it had to be different. But I expected it to go back to the way it used to be as the book went on and it didn’t. It seemed to get worse and worse. Their relationship was one of my favorite things about the first book and that was taken away from me here.
Oh and the Arnesian King and Queen are assholes. Seriously. They treat Kell like shit this entire book and I just wanted to scream at them about the sacrifice he made. They only saw the bad. They treated him like a criminal in his own home and they’re supposed to love him like a son. They DID love him like a son in A Darker Shade of Magic, but that all changed in this book. I don’t think you can just stop loving someone. It’s not possible. But somehow they turned their love for Kell off and it broke my heart.
The side plot and last 50 pages were good.
The last fifty pages were good. They were action-packed and a lot happened. The side plot that had been developing the entire book was super interesting and I wish it had been a bigger focus because those were the parts that grabbed me. But they were sparse. And even though the last 50 pages sucked me back into the story, I don’t think it’s fair to raise my rating of the book based on them. I also felt so disconnected at that point that I wasn’t freaking out as much as I think I should have been. And of course, I want to know what happens, but I don’t feel like I’m going to die for a year waiting. The good news is since nothing really happened I shouldn’t have trouble remembering when the third book does come out.
Have you read this one yet? What did you think of the pacing? Did you feel like nothing happened as well? What was your opinion on the Element Games? Do you think Victoria should have pushed the timeline forward and skipped all of this?