Shades of Magic series: A Gathering of Shadows

In the second volume of the Shades of Magic series, four months have passed since Kell and Lila returned to Red London. A lot has changed, and life isn’t easy.

Now that his life and Rhy’s are tied, Kell is feeling a great deal of pressure. King Maxim and Queen Emira keep Kell on a short leash, fearful of both his power but also what would happen to Rhy if Kell were harmed. To release his frustration, Kell practices combat in the depths of the palace but the edge is ever present. Rhy, for his part, is equally frustrated at his lack of strength and dependency. But instead of practicing combat, Rhy takes to the streets and his cups.

Meanwhile, Lila has found herself employed on the Night Spire, a privateer ship captained by Alucard Emery. She’s been practicing her magic, thanks to lessons from her captain. But Lila still has no idea who – what – she is. When the Night Spire returns to Red London so that Alucard can participate in the Elemental Games, Lila suddenly finds herself wanting to join as well. The participants are already chosen, so how can she enter?

Kell and Lila’s paths will cross again, in a way they didn’t expect. Unbeknownst to them, things are changing in White London. And someone will soon come for Kell.

A Gathering of Shadows continues the story of Kell and Lila. It’s more emotional than its predecessor considering the changes – emotional and physical – that occurred in A Darker Shade of Magic. While I prefer Darker, I feel Gathering was a nice sequel. Most of the action is in the last one third of the book, when the Games actually begin. But that’s not to say he first part isn’t intense; it’s very emotionally raw as each character tries to come to terms with their new lot in life.

And of course there is a cliffhanger. It’s not a Schwab book if there isn’t a major cliffhanger. While Gathering may not be my favorite volume, I still love it. And I cannot wait for A Conjuring of Light to be released in February.

My rating: 4/5


Crooked Kingdom

The second and final installment in the Six of Crows duology, Crooked Kingdom continues the adventures of Kaz Brekker and his crew – only this time their enemy is their home city of Ketterdam.

After Wylan’s father, Jan Van Eck, double crosses the crew and kidnaps Inej, he gives Kaz one week to bring Kuwei Yul-Bo in exchange for Inej. After breaking Kuwei out of the Ice Fortress in Fjerda, Kaz is not inclined to turn him over – especially since Kuwei holds the secret to jurda parem, the drug that enhances a Grisha’s power but which addiction is unavoidable. But retrieving Inej isn’t the only thing the crew must do: they must also reclaim the thirty million kruge Van Eck promised them for the Ice Fortress job. But how to do it?

Kaz, of course, has his plans. And more plans. Although events don’t always go according to Kaz’s plans, he has others on the sidelines. But did Kaz’s plans involve Van Eck allying himself with Pekka Collins, the man who Kaz has sworn revenge on? Do his plans involve delegations from Ravka, Fjerda, Shu, and Kaelish coming to Ketterdam? Do his plans include a hired assassin sent after his Wraith? Do his plans take into account the sudden appearance of Jesper’s father? And do his plans including knowing that his own boss, Per Haskell, would turn on him?

But Kaz Brekker isn’t called Dirtyhands for nothing. He plans on getting his thirty million kruge one way or another. The question simply becomes: how much will Ketterdam have to endure until Kaz gets his Wraith, his money, and his revenge?

Whoa…Crooked Kingdom was a ride! I had felt Six of Crows started a bit slow – understandably since it was setting up the crew. But it’s sequel assumes the reader is well familiar with Kaz and his band and starts off with the action. Ketterdam is the setting; it is both home for the crew but also dangerous as well since all their enemies are in one city. You never knew what exactly would happen next.

And I loved every heart pounding minute of it!

I am thoroughly convinced that Leigh Bardugo modeled Kaz after herself. How else is she able to spin such extraordinary stories without giving any clues as to what is really happening away. I loved it. So much so that I immediately bought her Grisha Trilogy to continue the story (or actually read what happened before).

My rating: 5/5

The Scorpio Races

On the first of November on the island of Thisby, racers ride capall uisce, fast but dangerous water horses. This is the Scorpio Races, where the winner is known throughout the island and the losers are dead if they are unlucky.

Kate “Puck” Connolly is practically an orphan. Her parents have recently died on the sea; now she and her two brothers, Gabe and Finn, struggle to survive. But Puck is content so long as she has her brothers and her beloved horse, Dove. But when Gabe announces that he is leaving for the mainland, Puck’s world falls apart. In a desperate attempt to keep Gabe close – at least for a little while – Puck enters the Scorpio Race. She’s the first female to do so (though there are no actual rules against women races); not only that, Puck has chosen to race not on a capall uisce, but on her ordinary island horse Dove.

Sean Kendrick is a four time Scorpio Race winner and head trainer at the Malvern stables. He works for Benjamin Malvern, who owns half of Thisby as well as Sean’s beloved capall uisce, the red stallion Corr who once belonged to Sean’s father. Sean’s only desire is to buy Corr, the one thing he loves most in the world. But Malvern isn’t selling, and Sean must contend with Malvern’s jealous son, Mutt, who sees Sean as a person to torment and hate.

As the race draws near, Puck and Sean become acquainted. Their passing friendship becomes more as they begin to understand what drives the other to try and win this year’s Scorpio Race. Puck, fearful and mistrusting of the water horses, begins to see how much Sean loves Corr and how much the capall uisce cares for Sean in return. Sean, in turn, is drawn to Puck’s bravery as she fights misogyny and sexism in a sport that is dominated by men – men who don’t want a female on the beach no matter what her reason is.

The Scorpio Races is so much more than an urban fantasy tale about young people and mythical racing water horses. It’s a story about true heart felt love, love that extends beyond the boundaries of family and species. It’s a story about Puck’s struggle against a patriarchal sport dominated by the gender she is not; Puck didn’t enter the race to fight with sexist views, but that’s what she ends up doing. But mostly it’s about two people who discover another person who shares the same feelings they do for the island they grew up on and the horses they both love.

My rating: 4.5/5

A Torch Against The Night

The sequel to An Ember in the Ashes, A Torch Against the Night picks up directly where Ember left off: with Laia and Elias escaping Blackcliff in the catacombs.

Being pursued by Masks, Elias has had to abandon his original escape plan. Nearly trapped in the catacombs, he and Laia barely manage to escape when a revolt by the Revolution causes a part of the catacomb ceiling to collapse. The pair make their escape through Serra but are stopped by Keris Veturia, the Commandant of Blackcliff and Elias’ biological mother. They narrowly escape her, but not before Keris exacts her revenge in a slow and torturous way.

All the same, Laia is still bent on freeing her brother Darien from Kauf prison, especially after rumors of a Scholar knowing the secrets of serric blades starts to spread. Laia is terrified that the Warden of Kauf will torture her brother to death, and Elias is intent on helping her. They are joined on their journey by Kennan and Izzi, both who came looking for Laia. In order to get to the the north and Kauf safely, Elias must call in the favor of the nomadic Tribe Nur and its zaldara Afya Ara-Nur.

Meanwhile, Helene Aquilla, the newly appointed Blood Shrike, is undergoing extreme questioning regarding Elias’ escape. Eventually she is cleared of any involvement, but her latest assignment by Emperor Marcus may be her undoing: to hunt down and execute the traitor Elias Veturius. She is accompanied in her mission by Lieutenant Avitas Harper, Helene’s once interrogator and Keris’ spy. But the lieutenant seems to have a secret agenda of his own – one that involves Elias. Will his secret aid Helene – or destroy her?

A Torch Against the Night was a spectacular read. I loved how it was a direct continuation and not one that starts off with some time passage. I felt like my heart was pounding through most of the pages as there never seemed to be any moments of peace for the characters. Even if they were not in physical danger, through was so much emotional turmoil filling the pages. Each character has to make hard decisions and sacrifices for what they truly want – even if they do not know what that is. There is so much involved that it is really difficult writing a spoiler free review that conveys all my thoughts and feelings.

It has been announced that Sabaa Tahir will write an additional two books for this series. However, the next installment is not due for release until 2018. Nearly two years?! I could cry. While Torch ends on a semi-happy note – at least for Elias and Laia, and at least for the time being – war in brewing, and Helene is caught in the middle. How will it all come to a head? Only two more years to find out.

My rating: 4.5/5