The Final Trip Through London: A Review of A Conjuring of Light

A Conjuring of Light (2017)
Written By: V.E. Schwab
Genre: Fantasy
Pages: 624 (Hardcover)
Series: Shades of Magic (Book 3)
Publisher: Tor Books

Why I Chose It: Because the second one ended on the cliffhanger of all cliffhangers and I’m only human.

The Premise:

As darkness sweeps the Maresh Empire, the once precarious balance of power among the four Londons has reached its breaking point.

In the wake of tragedy, Kell — once assumed to be the last surviving Antari — begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. Lila Bard, once a commonplace — but never common — thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her dry.

An ancient enemy returns to claim a city while a fallen hero tries to save a kingdom in decay. Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery of the Night Spire collects his crew, attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible.

I prefer to review books without spoilers for obvious reasons. I want to entice people who haven’t read it to do so, and I assume those who have will know what I’m talking about. However, I would really like to gush about at least one thing that’s a fairly major spoiler for the second book. So, you’ve been warned.

Spoilers ahead.

Discussion: I think the first chapter of this book should have been the last chapter of the second one. It would have rounded out the conflict in A Gathering of Shadows, and it would have left enough of a cliffhanger to get us into the third book. As it was, the first chapter felt like it was a part of the previous book anyway, setting it apart from the rest of the story and giving it a disjointed quality. I don’t know why Schwab and/or her editor made the choice they did. I’m trying not to think of it as a cheap trick to sell more books, but I’m having a hard time doing so.

With that being said, the urgency and the world-destroying epicness of the first book returned for all six hundred something pages in A Conjuring of Light, only with more danger and bigger stakes if that’s at all possible. The magic that threatened Red London’s world in A Darker Shade of Magic is now loose and sentient and seemingly omnipotent. I even found myself feeling sorry for it once or twice since it had killed off its whole world and was lonely for company. It’s a pretty impressive feat to elicit sympathy for a world destroying monster, even if it’s just the smallest drop of human feeling.

There were several things I loved about this book. I’m a sucker for enemies turned allies, and Holland gained all the depth he’d been missing in the first and second books. At the end of A Darker Shade of Magic, I knew he had to be coming back. Of course, that might have more to do with the fact that I don’t believe someone is dead until I’ve seen them buried, and the series has passed into the realm of classic literature. I mean, I still think Sirius Black is coming back. So, I’m pretty glad I was right about Holland.

And getting to see all the Antari working together was pretty rewarding. Kell might be the proverbial hero, but between Holland and Lila, he’s milquetoast. Oh, Lila. I have to say I missed the mask, but she still managed to kick so much ass. And because we know her and her determination so well, her transformation from magicless outsider to deadly magician was believable and inevitable. So much awesome packed into one slim character.

Of course, she and Kell still make sparks fly, in all sorts of ways. I think Schwab missed her calling in the romance genre. I’ve never been riveted to my seat by mere kissing before, and you couldn’t have pried that book away with a crowbar.

This book branched out even further than the last one to encompass several more narrators. In some ways I liked that I got to see inside some other people’s heads. As a mother, I found I completely understood Emira and her fear of breaking things, especially people. But I also missed the intimacy and closeness of the first book where we just follow Kell and Lila.

I’m starting to realize that big sweeping epic fantasies just aren’t my favorite. I prefer — well, I’m not going to call them smaller because that would be selling them short; let’s call them focused — I prefer more focused epic fantasy. I love the whole saving the world from the bad guy/magic/whatever thing, but I want to hang out in the head of the one hero who is essential, or at least the lynchpin, of the saving. These stories are more personal and affect me on a deeper level than stories with dozens of plotlines and narrators converging on a point.

With that being said, I felt like the Shades of Magic series moved from that more intimate book that I prefer to the broader definition of epic fantasy. I can’t fault it for being something that millions of people love, it’s just not what I really wanted. As wonderful as this particular book was, I found myself always a little disappointed that it had zoomed out so much.

Also, the history between Rhy and Alucard and Kell still felt muddled. The timeline was a little convoluted, so the fact that Alucard was so secretive about what had happened muddied the waters even further. I think Schwab held off on revealing the truth just a bit too long for me. The payoff didn’t end up matching the build-up. And their varying reactions didn’t seem appropriate for the wrongs committed. Kell was too enraged, Rhy too dismissive, and Alucard too reticent. Even now at the end when I’m sure I have the whole story, I still feel like I am missing some vital piece. Maybe if I go back and reread the series it will feel more cohesive. I wanted so much for Rhy and Alucard’s story to mean as much as Kell and Lila’s, but I don’t think it got the time or the weight it deserved.

Finally, I picked this series up for the unique world and magic of the first book. And I really felt like the parallel Londons and the Antari’s ability to travel between them should have played a more direct role in the conflict and resolution of the story. The brief forays into White and Gray London seemed trivial and periphery compared with everything going on in Red London. Obviously, this is just my opinion and there are plenty of people who will be satisfied with the story Schwab chose to tell. I just wanted it to be a bit more than it was.

In Conclusion: I hate leaving a book with even such a small amount of disappointment. Especially when there was so much about it to love. But in the end, I loved A Darker Shade of Magic, and I only liked A Conjuring of Light. If you really like epic fantasy with multiple narrators and high stakes, you’ll probably love it.

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