There is no worse literary disease than the cursed middle-book syndrome, and unfortunately A Gathering of Shadows, sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, is a terminal patient. The second book in the Shades of Magic trilogy is five-hundred-pages of slow exposition that funnels the reader into the third book – an entertaining distraction, but nothing particularly memorable.

In December, I read and loved ADSOM, despite commenting on its ‘slow burn’, taking almost a third of the novel to finally reveal the core plot. Unfortunately, the same problem plagues A Gathering of Shadows, dragging out the sparse storyline.

The Shades of Magic has an incredible premise overall – four parallel universes, each fixed around their own version of London, each with varying levels of magical potential. From the cursed Black London, source of magic (but since consumed by the nature of magic itself), to White London (the finale of ADSOM), Red London (where most of the books take place), and Gray London (our own dreary, magic-deprived world).

Rising above the general rabble of magical users are Antari, legendary magicians with the power to traverse worlds with their unique blood magic. Kell, protagonist of the series, is one such Antari, and in ADSOM, we saw the potential of his blood magic and how it makes him so much more powerful than other magicians.

It’s a shame Kell forgets about that.

In AGOS, for some inexplicable reason, Kell uses his Antari magic only a handful of times, and only once in combat. The “Element Games” being held in Red London form somewhat of a focus for AGOS, with three major nations converging for a magical-gladiator-tournament thing, sort of like magic-powered fencing, with a whole bunch of politics thrown in. While attempting to deal with their personal demons from the first book, Kell and his ‘brother’, Prince Rhy, concoct a scheme to put Kell into the Element Games so he can…vent his anger. Or something. It doesn’t make much sense, and even less sense from a reader’s perspective because Kell cannot use his unique magic. Also his magical coat receives even less attention than his blood magic, which makes me sad.

Delilah Bard, the second main character in Shades of Magic offers a slightly richer storyline, but still a confusing one. After hiding aboard a ship and joining their crew as a thief, Lila discovers she possesses magical ability – supposedly impossible for a Gray Londoner. In the process of understanding her fledgling, but unusually powerful, magic, she decides to…also enter the Element Games.

You can see where this is going. The plot is contrived, and even worse, it takes a staggering 300 pages before the Element Games even begin.

A Gathering of Shadows is a book about nothing. The plot barely advances the series, and the only real twists happen in literally the last thirty pages of a five-hundred-page novel.

AGOS is more character-driven than the original, and perhaps that explains the lack of any obvious plot or action. It’s just sadly disappointing that a book with so much potential squanders the opportunities to expand on its own universe. There are a handful of brief forays into Gray London, where a new King has taken the throne, but nothing else happens there. White London is staged as the ‘evil London’ where the bad guys always rule, but it serves as nothing except an idle B-plot to be used in the final book.

There are some positives in Shadows though – the magic system is well-thought-out, the characters are always believable and multidimensional, and despite the overall plot lacking, the novel certainly grabs you and pulls you forward. I still want to see how the trilogy ends, and I still recommend people read the series – but A Gathering of Shadows is inescapably a ‘filler’ book.

The Good

A thoughtful magic system that achieves a unique balance between power and cost. Impressive visual descriptions and an entertaining parallel-universe concept.

The Bad

No clear point, frustrating plot structure and decisions, and overall an obviously stretched out book to fill the three-book structure of Shades of Magic.

The Verdict

An entertaining filler book that deliberately pulls punches. A slow and exceptionally long prelude to the third and final novel – 3/5 stars.