Sigh. This was an enjoyable book and a disappointment at the same time. A Gathering of Shadows is the second book in a series, following A Darker Shade of Magic, which was absolutely beautiful. Unfortunately, it suffers a case of second book syndrome.
When the book starts, Kell is still living in Red London and dealing with the aftermath of the first book. The people who once thought him blessed now seem to think him cursed, and he's lost the trust and respect of his adoptive parents, the king and queen. He and his adoptive brother Rhy, their lives now tied together, are also chafing as the bond brings them even closer than they first anticipated, making it seem like neither has a life, feelings, or a mind of his own again. And to top it off, Kell's power seems to have been permanently altered by the Vitari stone, and he struggles to keep it under control.
On the other hand, we have Lila, who has fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a pirate--to a degree. She's found a captain and a crew and has been living it up on the high seas. But now her ship is bound back for London (Red London, that is) for the Element Games, which is basically like the Triwizard Tournament of the Red London world, with twelve competitors from three different countries facing off against each other for glory. Lila's captain intends to compete in the tournament, and Lila, having learned a bit of magic herself, decides that she's going to do so as well. But there's a slight catch: Lila's not on the rosters. So she decides to steal someone's identity in order to compete.
And meanwhile, Rhy has made up an identity for Kell so that Kell can compete.
The plot of this book is ultimately nonexistent. There's a developing of inter-personal dynamics on each side, Kell and Lila's, but very little interaction between them. This book is 509 pages long and the two protagonists don't meet until page 426, despite having spent most of the first book in each other's company. They think about each other a bit before that, but honestly they're not mooning over each other the whole time. Meanwhile, the actual plot, which is actually the plot for the third, upcoming book and not this one, develops over just a handful of very short chapters which follow up with what happens in White London after the downfall of the Dane twins in the first book. Seeing the emergence of another Antari was interesting. "Seeing" the tournament was interesting, because we didn't get to see a lot of magic-use other than from Kell and Holland in the first book, but at the same time I feel like if I wanted some really good element-style fight scenes I could have just gone and watched a few episodes of Avatar: The Last Airbender or Avatar: The Legend of Korra. This whole lack of movement is utterly indicative of the dreaded second-book syndrome, and it is rampant in this book. The tournament gives there an illusion of things happening, but there's really not.
I'm very much looking forward to the third and final book in this series, which comes out in early 2017, because this book's conclusion set A Summoning of Light up very well, but despite the nice writing in this book I found it a disappointment compared to the first.
3 stars out of 5.