If A Darker Shade of Magic was a classic MacGuffin-chase with a parallel world twists, A Gathering of Shadows is slower and more character driven. Despite the nominally Georgian time period this isn’t an Austen story of manners and there is no love triangle as such but there is what we could call a relationship trapezium.
Delilah Bard, the Grey London pickpocket dragged into Red London in the first book, takes a more central role. She is still in the world of Red London, having absconded onto a Privateer ship and is a casually violent as ever – perhaps more so as she pursues her ambition to be a pirate. Enter the dashing, and magical, ships captain – a man with a past as the second vertex of our trapezium.
Back in the royal places of Red London, we learn more about Rhy – the heir to the throne and his relationship with his foster brother Kell – the young world-hopping magician. Bound closer by the events in the first book. Rhy was little more than a quick sketch of a character in A Darker Shade of Magic but in the sequel he is fleshed out more.
Kell is suffering from the consequence of the first book and his actions. Treated now with greater suspicion and emotional distance by the king and queen, tied by a magical bond to Rhy and yet also pinning for Delilah Bard, Kell is not in a happy state.
Meanwhile…well stuff is happening in White London but there lie spoilers. Grey London is again barely seen. King George III is dead and the Prince Regent is now George IV (for those keeping count that puts us in 1820). There are hints of magic returning to Grey London…
With characters to the fore, plot takes a step backwards. To keep things moving, we learn more about the world of Red London and specifically so that there is a reason for things to happen (and even more specifically to bring ship’s captain, Bard, Rhy and Kell together) the secondary focus is on a kind of magical Olympics – a tournament of magic.
OK, yes, that is a bit Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire but it is a decent skeleton on which to hang things. And rather like said book, A Gathering of Shadows takes a sudden turn close to the end and finishes on a powerful cliff-hanger.
Great to spend more time with Kell and Delilah Bard. Schwab obviously loves writing about Red London perhaps at the expense of her other Londons but that does the book no harm.