Today is our Coven Chat about V.E. Schwab’s newest book in the Shades of Magic series, A Gathering of Shadows (AGOS). As a reminder, in Coven Chats we assume that our readers have already read the book, so if you’re avoiding spoilers, don’t read on!
If you haven’t read any of the series yet, read Allison’s rec. If you’re looking for our chat about the first book in the series, A Darker Shade of Magic (ADSOM), read Allison and Alyssa’s fangirl ode to Lila Bard.
The three of us agree that the Shades of Magic books are some of the most exciting books in adult fantasy right now, so please join us in the comments for further chatting about this awesome series. Brew some tea, pull up a cat and let’s get started…
Nicola: My biggest quibble with ADSOM was that I never really felt connected to the characters; I enjoyed the plot and the worldbuilding, but I was missing that intimacy with the characters that makes me truly fall in love with a story. AGOS solves that and I felt that strong personal connection to the main characters. Unsurprisingly, Lila is my favourite character, and I loved the scenes with her on the ship, particularly the opening chapters, but I also really enjoyed Kell and Rhys’ character development and their relationship with each other and their parents.
Alyssa: Lila is still my favorite character, even though I love Kell and Rhys too. I also loved those opening chapters with Lila and her shipmates, especially Alucard.
Allison: I still love Lila most, though I thought she lost her edge a bit this time around, but I think it’s a necessary character arc. I don’t want to see her bravado keep her from having relationships with people. She felt a little lost this book — like she’s looking for purpose, and I’m guessing that’s her overall arc: finding out who and what she is and where she belongs.
Nicola: Yeah, Lila’s arc features much more heavily in this book compared to ADSOM, to the point where the first 50-odd pages are entirely from her POV. I thought this was a good narrative choice, because until the tournament gets started Lila’s story is discrete from those of Kell and Rhys, so it gave a chance for the reader to get grounded in the individual storylines rather than jumping around between the ship and Red London.
Allison: I completely agree. I love that this book felt like “Lila’s” from the beginning, which made me really happy. I also thought AGOS moved a bit slower than ADSOM, which I thought was great. I talked in my recommendation about the fact that it feels like Schwab spent a good amount of time fleshing the characters out this time around and it was completely necessary.
My only “quibble” with it was that the tournament felt a little forced. I understand how it functioned as a narrative device and I’m interested in the fact that Schwab didn’t allow Kell or Lila to win, but if there’s some kind of significance to Alucard winning, it got lost in the big ending.
Alyssa: I agree that the tournament felt a bit forced. Mainly because including a (magical) game/competition is very popular and somewhat cliche. But AGOS treats magical dueling differently. Perhaps because the multiple worlds and magicians in this series are so unique, this tournament doesn’t seem trite. I love that it introduced us to characters from the other empires, so that now we have a better understanding of the geopolitical world of Arnes/Red London. I wish we had an even better understanding of Faro and Veska.
I also found it very interesting that Lila or Kell didn’t win, and I thought that was a clever way of avoiding being cliche. And I am curious to see what happens to Alucard, as well as his complicated relationships with Rhy, Kell and Lila.
Nicola: I think my favourite part of the tournament is Lila’s involvement, not so much because I adore Lila (though I do), but because of how it plays into her character development; she didn’t even know magic existed until a few months ago, she has almost no experience, she shouldn’t even be able to do magic at all, and she’s entering into a tournament against people to whom magic comes as easily as breathing. I’m glad she didn’t win, because that would have felt incredibly contrived, but it was interesting to see her enter and compete in the first place.
Alyssa: Yes, definitely. And I love how Schwab uses Lila’s inexperience with her abilities to emphasize the importance of magical balance. Like Kell, she struggles with the darker side of magic, when it becomes dangerous and chaotic; but, unlike Kell, she’s just starting to understand her own powers. I really like that Lila discovers she’s more powerful than she could have ever imagined, but that she’s still defeated in the tournament and realizes that she has limitations.
Allison: I completely agree with everything you both have said. The tournament itself is a great way for us to understand more about the series’ system of magic and its added bonus is that we get to understand all of the new characters better, as well as the way Red London is situated in the rest of its world. The set-up is great, it just seemed a little rushed to me at the beginning and Lila’s decision to participate felt very impulsive, even for her. Don’t get me wrong, I love how it all works out!
Alyssa: Yes, although the tournament is a bit rushed and abrupt in its execution, it’s an excellent way to introduce us to Arnes’s surrounding empires and a fabulous new cast of characters. Alucard is my favorite new character, and I’m glad that we can fall in love with him first, in those opening scenes with Lila, before we find out that Kell strongly dislikes him because he broke Rhys’s heart. But Kell’s negative feelings towards Alucard didn’t lessen my love for him. Now I find the lord-turned-pirate even more intriguing.
Allison: I love Alucard. I think he’s a fantastic character and there’s nothing I love more than a sexy pirate with a heart of gold. I can’t wait to know all his secrets. Or not know them… Just more Alucard, please!!
Alyssa: Yes, please. I love the scenes with him and Lila. They are some of my favorite parts of AGOS. Even though I love Lila and Kell, I also love Lila and Alucard.
Nicola: Okay, I confess, I’m totally shipping Lila and Alucard. I’m also shipping Lila and Kell, and Rhy and Alucard, admittedly, but I think Lila and Alucard have a lot in common, even though Lila grew up in poverty and Alucard comes from wealth; they both hide behind a mask of bravado and general badassery and pretend not to feel when they do in fact feel rather deeply, and I think for them to be themselves around each other requires more courage and personal growth than with other people, because it would be so easy for them both to hide and keep up the light-hearted banter.
Allison: I’m actually shipping Lila and Lila… I’m not altogether that interested in her having a romantic attachment. For me, the best endgame scenario would be that she gets her pirate ship and Kell gets his freedom, with perhaps the hint of promise that in the future they might have a future. Of course the next book will reveal a lot.
I think there’s so much between Rhy and Alucard that seems fraught and angsty, so I like that a lot. I do love a tortured love story. I’m also sort of hoping that Holland is going to somehow be a contender for Rhy’s love. Not sure why, but I feel like those crazy kids could make things work.
Alyssa: I’m shipping Lila and Kell, Rhy and Alucard. But, as much as I’m rooting for romance, I agree with Allison that I’d rather have Lila fulfill her own dreams of adventure and freedom aboard her own pirate ship than settle into a relationship by the end of this series. I don’t think it will bother me if the series ends without the love stories being resolved at the end.
However, I do want to know more about Lila’s and Kell’s pasts. When Kell asks the queen “Who’s my mother?” is an interesting moment and a substantial hint that the queen knows about his parentage and his past. We better learn more about Kell’s past in the next book. (Lila’s past, too.) What are you hoping for next?
Nicola: Yeah, I agree with both of you that the ending I want most for Lila is for her to get her pirate ship and to be honest, even though I’m shipping her with Alucard/Kell I don’t really see her settling into a solid relationship anytime soon. She’s got other priorities.
As for the rest of the story, I’m glad that Kell’s relationship with the king and queen is finally a bit more honest in AGOS. I had hoped a little that we’d get to know a bit more about his parentage, but his moment with the queen indicated that the subject hasn’t been dropped, so I expect we’ll get to learn more in the next book.
Allison: I agree, this book put us on the right track to understanding who these characters are in the moment, but I’m looking forward to understanding why they are who they are.
Alyssa: Me, too. And I want to understand the worlds better. MAPS, PLEASE!
Nicola: OMG yes! I got really confused by some of the geography because I assumed these were parallel worlds, not just parallel Londons, so I expected Red London to be in the southeast of an island. It isn’t.
Allison: Oh yes. I’m needing a bit of clarification on how the “Londons” fit together, as well as how they’re situated in the four separate worlds. It was a bit of a game changer to realize that they aren’t parallel universes. Really, for me, just more about the four worlds altogether. That’s one of my favorite things about this series.
Nicola: Me too. And knowing that these are four separate worlds opens up a whole new slew of questions. Are there other cities in any of these worlds that exist in yet other worlds? Or is London an anomaly? And just wh
at is the rest of the world outside Black London like? I don’t expect to get answers to all these
questions, but I admit, I’m intrigued.
Allison: Oh yes. I think there’s so much more to know and I know I speak for all of us when I say the wait feels too long until the next book! If you’re looking for a series you can read start to finish right now, our next Coven Chat is about a series that’s winding down: The Winner’s Trilogy, by Marie Rutkoski. See you next week, book witches!