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 tried out at least five different beginnings to this review, because I can’t find any words to convey how much I loved this book. Since I really liked the first book in the series, I preordered this one and started reading shortly after it was delivered to my Kindle around midnight on its release date. Victoria Schwab usually writes great beginnings, but I think this might have been my favorite one yet. It has a very Pirates of the Caribbean flair to it and there’s trickery and action and cleverness and basically yes, please. However, as I read on I was all prepared to give the book a mediocre rating. I didn’t love Lila, because it felt too much like she was only written to be badass if you think that killing people and acting inconsiderate is badass. I liked returning to this world, but the story dragged a tiny little bit. But… then I got sucked in again and I freaking loved every single thing about it. Let me tell you why.
I LOVE the characters in this world. I love Rhy and Kell and Alucard and somehow, accidentally, even Lila. I disagree with basically everything she does, but somehow I’m rooting for her anyway. I’ve been reading another book since I finished this and I keep thinking Lila wouldn’t do this, Lila would be proactive, Lila wouldn’t whine, why aren’t you more like Lila?, so er… I suppose she’s grown on me. Also, there’s a tiny little bit of character development for her in this book, so I’m hoping that we’ll see even more of that in the next one. There’s a new addition to the cast, Alucard, and I APPROVE. He features more heavily in the first half of the book than the second, but I have hopes for the future. One of the things I wanted to see more of in the last book was Rhy and I got my wish. I still really like him though he also makes stupid decisions sometimes. In fact, all of these characters are phenomenally flawed and I can never decide whether I want to slap them or hug them. In a good way.
I do NOT like the king and queen. I thought Kell was just being insecure when he said they don’t love him as much as Rhy, but they seem to actually not consider him a son and generally make bad parenting decisions all around. Kell’s new guard, Hastra, makes up for it though, as he’s squishable and helpful and should get all the happy ends.
Last book, I complained that there was too much travelling and I just wanted the characters to freaking stay in one place and I got my wish. There’s still a fair amount of travelling, but we also finally get to see more of Red London in all its magical glory. I always say how cinematic Schwab’s writing is and it’s true again in this book. I have a much easier time imagining the world than I do with most other books and everything is just very visual without being overdescriptive (the only thing more boring than too much description is listening to people tell you about their dreams). It’s been ages since I was able to immerse myself into a fictional world like this. There’s magic, but there are consequences to using it. As readers, we get to see fairly early on that the title of the book is a good choice, because shadows are gathering everywhere and while the characters go along their merry way (by merry I mean tortured and self-loathing) we can already see that everything, and I mean absolutely everything, is going to fall apart. Yay.
The Element Games
So, a lot of this book is centered around The Element Games, a tournament held to further peace between the countries by setting up magicians from different countries against each other in a spectator sport kind of way. I… really, really loved this. I know element based magic is a bit cliché (and neither water nor fire nor earth nor air are actually elements just to nitpick), but this whole part was as if the author reached into my mind and pulled out exactly what I wanted to read. Imagining the duels is just cool (for some reason they also reminded me of watching pokémon as a kid, just to add that irrelevant tidbit) and I thought the outcome is handled very well. Without spoiling anything, there’s also a lot of stuff happening around the games and its participants that is very fun. The only thing I could possibly complain about is that the games don’t start until later in the book and are dealt with fairly quickly. We see a lot of the setup, but the structure of the book might have benefited if the games had been more central. The Games also brought a lot of new characters with them, but most of them play a very peripheral role. I feel like there was potential to get to know them better as they seemed quite interesting, but I guess the book can only be so long.
There’s very little romance in this book, which is great, because everything else is much more interesting. I’m not sure I ship Lila and Kell that much to be honest as they’ve only known each other for a very short time and I just don’t really feel their chemistry or understand why they think of what the other person would say/do so much when they’ve literally only spend a couple of days together. Lila and Alucard would make more sense than Lila and Kell for all I care. There is one other romance-y pairing, which I do so far like, but we only get hints of their backstory and very little interaction, so I’d love to see more. The relationship I loved most of all, was the one between Kell and Rhy, because they piss each other off all the time, but they also care deeply about each other and want the best for each other. I’m gleefully happy about Kell’s protectiveness of Rhy’s ickle little heart and I like that Rhy doesn’t want Kell to stop living just because Rhy gets hurt when Kell gets hurt. I also liked Lila and Alucard’s interactions very much, because they’re both as bad as each other and have great banter.
The 1.3 Tiny Things I Had Issues With
I think by this point you’ve probably noticed that I LOVED this book, but there were one or two things that could have been better. I already noted that I felt it drags a little in the beginning. I didn’t really mind, because I still loved reading in this world, but it bears mentioning. My main issue, however, are the many POVs. Too many. I’m not a huge fan of multiple POVs in general, but I can see that they are sometimes necessary and Victoria Schwab manages to write them so I don’t get confused who’s brain I’m invading at what moment, so I’m more tolerant than I’d generally be. Lila wasn’t in Red London at the beginning of the book, so I understand why she and Kell had to have separate page time. Rhy’s POV wasn’t really technically necessary as he and Kell are in the same place and their storylines intersect all the time, but I like Rhy, so I don’t mind. However, there were even more than those three POVs and that’s where I draw the line. Look, I even recognize the other POVs mostly made sense and were possibly vital to the plot, but I just did.not.care. Whenever one of the White London POVs came up I got bored, because I just didn’t want to get into another head.
Lastly, the ending. What even was that. I was SO MAD when I finished the book because it basically just stops mid-action and I can’t even with that. The book ends on a massive cliffhanger and I KNOW that it’s probably going to be fine, but I would have liked for there to be at least some wrap-up, some sense of ending, rather than just a random cut-off.
I LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this book. It’s been ages since I’ve been so involved with a world and I can’t wait to read more. There’s a true sense of magic in this world that I haven’t felt in a while
dare I say since reading Harry Potter and I will be gnawing everyone and their mother’s ears off to read this series. I originally gave the book 4.5 stars at the beginning of my Goodreads review and then changed it to five because, despite the things I didn’t like, I’m completely in love with the world and the characters. Victoria Schwab is doing so many things right and I can’t wait for more. Six out of five cupcakes.