A Gathering of Shadows Review

Synopsis: It has been four months since a mysterious obsidian stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Prince Rhy was wounded, and since the nefarious Dane twins of White London fell, and four months since the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift–back into Black London.

Now, restless after having given up his smuggling habit, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks as 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.

And while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night will reappear in the morning. But the balance of magic is ever perilous, and for one city to flourish, another London must fall.

Review:

I’d like to propose a contender for the worst feeling in the world: going into a book with 100% certainty you’ll like it, and then that confidence slowlyyyyy – almost imperceptibly – fading into hatred. Especially when the average rating of said book is a four-point-f*cking-three-five.

But I can’t not hate this book. So much of this is nightmare scenario after nightmare scenario wrapped into one misleading synopsis. I was, quite frankly, SHOCKED by how quickly universally adored author V.E. Schwab introduced the not-like-other-girls trope, which you all know I abhor. At least buy a girl dinner first, Victoria. I’ll set the scene: Liiiiilaaaaa (read that in a sarcastically loving voice, please) is at a market. Literally looking at knives because she has no personality traits or sense of fun. Anyway, another stereotype on two legs the captain of her ship says, for no goddamn reason except, I presume, his own terribleness: “Most girls covet dresses.” Bad enough, right? Already enough to make me cringe hard and dock at least a star or so? IT GETS WORSE. Darling Lila’s response: “I am not most girls.” It literally cannot get any more blatant. I was so disgusted I read the scene aloud to my sister, and she shuddered.

In fact, it’s kind of…strange how sexist this book is. The great thing about YA books is that a lot of them are written by feminists, but the subliminal messages here made my skin crawl. There’s not just the not-like-other-girls stuff (or, as I call it, Sexism Lite: So Quirky Ladies Who Hate Other Women Can Still Claim to be Feminist). No, there’s more! Every. Single. Female character is judged for her appearance. Strong women are stripped of their gender identity – a couple of times, characters question whether muscular women are truly women at all. Which, like, f*ck you forever. Are you kidding me? And don’t forget the princess (from Vesk?). Her only character trait is boy-crazy. Instead of being a powerful female leader, she follows Kell around like a lovesick puppy…exactly, we are told, what she did to Rhy a couple years before. And don’t forget the disapproving tone of the text when she’s with any man. Subliminal slut shaming – cool! Oooh, and “She looked like the kind of girl who would point to something — or someone — and say, ‘I want one of those.’” Wow! Please tell me more about how there are kinds of girls.

More fun stuff: I literally hate all of these characters. How often does that happen?! Like, don’t get me wrong, I am completely just a heartless vessel designed to carry as much bitterness and anger as possible, but usually I’m at least neutral toward somebody. Not here. We follow four-ish main characters: Alucard, Rhy, Kell and Lila. (Putting Lila last because, if you couldn’t already tell by the fury leaking through this, she is the crown jewel in my treasure trove of loathing.)

The fun thing about this book is we get two – yes, two! – characters fighting for dominance over the same piece of sh*t stereotype! Yeah, Schwab had so much success with one character in that dumbass role that she went two for two in this one. I’m talking about Rhy and Alucard, and I’m talking about the YA male character archetype that I CANNOT ESCAPE. The roguish, flirty, handsome societal elite, who’s just soooooo tired of his hard-knock life of wealth and luxury and because of it can’t even stand to live up to expectations or within social bounds. Also, we’re always supposed to find these types funny, and I have never cracked a smile at one of these dumbos.

I feel like I can’t goddamn escape these goons of late. They’re the Will Herondales, the what’s-his-name from Heartless (the jester guy who wore eyeliner), Adrian from Bloodlines (will I ever finish that series?), one or more of the 8000 guys from Throne of Glass (literally can’t remember). Sorry I spaced on some of the names, but there’s an epidemic of these bozos and they’re SO unmemorable. But to have TWO of the same stereotype?! In the same book?! Extraordinary. I’ve never seen anything like it (and I pray I never will again).

Now…Kell. There is no way on God’s great green Earth I can fill a paragraph talking about Kell. He is the most boring character to ever boring up his way through a trilogy. Does the boy have any traits? Does he have a sense of humor? Fun, maybe? No? He’s just going to grumble around for 500 pages and be in love with Lila for no reason? Okay.

And…here we go. The moment I’ve been waiting for since approximately page 17 of this book. Talking about why LILA SUCKS UP A STORM. The gal’s a prime example of a really annoying factor of bad character-writing: telling and not showing. How many times are we TOLD, “Lila is smart. Lila is a quick study. Lila was born with the magical talent of the Chosen One, but maybe if we don’t use that term then you won’t notice and write about it in your reviews. Lila is brave. Lila is strong. Lila looks for trouble.” Now, compare that to how often it’s actually proven. Rarely, if ever. It’s annoying and boring and makes me want to sign V.E. Schwab up for an intro to creative writing class.

But that’s not where my problems end with ol’ Lila. No, it takes a bit more than that to end up on my most-hated characters list. Lila’s an annoying, bossy brat with a death wish, an inferiority complex, and the impenetrable belief that she knows better than everyone else. She knows better than her captain: when she is so insubordinate that Alucard has to remind her “I am your captain! You are my crew,” she thinks, “The barb struck with unexpected force.” NOT A BARB, LILA. YOU ARE NOT IN CHARGE. YOU ARE A PETTY THIEF ABOARD A SHIP. GET OVER YOURSELF!

She does the same to the head-magicky-guy (I kind of never paid attention to the terms in this book). At one point in the last book, I guess, he told her he thought she had magic within her. Which, like, mistake of a lifetime. If only I could turn back fictional time.

Lila latches onto that and uses it as her justification for making a metric sh*t ton of bad decisions that could have extraordinarily negative impacts on her, her loved ones, and the entire goddamn world(s). When Chief Inspector Magic tries to prevent her from making one of these many dumb choices, she responds, “You told me that I had magic in me. Now you don’t think I have what it takes?” Um, you’re untrained and a full-on dumbass and you want this guy who actually knows his stuff to fan your already-enormous ego and tell you you can win a huge magic tournament?

And she does it again, to Kell, who knows more about her and more about the kind of magic she wants to do than ANYONE. And she’s just a total bitch to him and he’s all, “yeah ok” and kisses her stupid face. Ugh. I’m getting so angry AND putting off math homework that’s due in 37 minutes. It’s time to stop talking about Lila and try to wrap this shindig up.

So much of this book is just…cliche to me. That moment when Lila is talking to the man at the mirror stall and he calls her Lila and she goes, all quasi-spook-ily, It wasn’t until after I left that I realized I had never told him my name……………….. or whatever? Made me GAG. And it wasn’t even for anything! That guy never comes back. We never get more info, really, on the mirrors or on the shopkeeper or any of that. It’s just a dumb cliche being used for a dumb cliched manner of foreshadowing. Like, omg, does she want the dark power slash thing she is entirely uneducated about?! Even though she shouldn’t?? Even though the big strong experienced man warns her not to do whatever said thing is? Oh my god! I have never read anything like that before! Except, like, you know…The Winner’s Kiss, Divergent, Siege and Storm, Throne of Glass, The 5th Wave, Passenger, Rebel Belle, Alice. I could definitely go on. Because that is one of my least favorite tropes that also manages to be super boring in every instance it is used. Seriously, shall I ever cease to be astounded by the untouched realms of young adult fantasy this book doth discover?

And after all that, it’s not even fun. I wanted to read about a magic tournament, but it took 350 pages to get there and only lasted about 100 (generously). It wasn’t even fun while it lasted, and then the rest of the book is a carbon copy of the events of the last book. I don’t want to spoil anything, but the grand cliffhanger of the book happens in the exact same way at the exact same event as the last book. It is, in other words, a snoozefest.

Bottom line: clichéd, sexist, teeming with some of the worst characters I’ve ever read, misleading, repetitive, occasionally illogical, and boring. Does that sum it up? Bleh.

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