In the final part of A Gathering of Shadows, we get a faceful of cliffhanger, in masterful style.
God damn it.
In previous reviews, I’ve talked about Lila Bard and consequences, and how I hoped she would eventually have to deal with them after certain choices she’s made. In the finale of A Gathering of Shadows, you could easily say she does. Or at least, that she’s set up pretty well to suffer her consequences. She gets a taste of her own medicine as the competition in the Essen Tasch heats up, when a sore loser attempts to do to Lila what she did to Stasion Elsor. She manages to avoid his fate, of course, and with the final rounds of the Essen Tasch to worry about, Lila doesn’t dwell on the situation for long once she’s out of that particular tough spot. Nonetheless, this was kind of gratifying in an immediate sense; it reassured me that Lila cannot, in fact, worm her way out of absolutely everything. Maybe now she will learn some caution?
Then again, given what happens following the closing ceremonies (short version: she and Kell both lose, him by unfortunate necessity, her by surprise upset, Emery’s among the winners), I’m pretty sure she’s not about to give herself enough time to learn that particular lesson.
She might still be rather forcibly taught, though. And that’s going to be a thing, if I’m placing any bets on what A Conjuring of Light has in store. For that matter, I think it’s safe to say that there’s going to be a hell of a lot on the line for everybody at this point. Including, certainly not least of all, Holland.
Talk about your whiplash-fast plot twists – I’m pretty sure that one takes the prize for leaving me screaming. Ojka’s deceitful ‘kidnapping’ of Kell after the Games, and Holland’s attempts to torture him into ‘accepting’ Osaron, were perhaps predictable enough. What I did NOT expect was for Kell to finally make the choice Holland once told him was the only one that mattered – whether he was going to be in control of magic, or controlled by it. Kell chooses his own death over risking the lives of everyone in Red London, even though it will mean taking Rhy with him. It’s heart-breakingly noble of him, and I can respect the hell out of it – I suspect that Rhy, so determined to use his position to do right by his people when he takes the crown, would have done likewise.
But then SURPRISE – turns out Osaron doesn’t actually need to have a bargain with Holland, or anyone else for that matter, to get what he wants. In actual fact, he was holding back until now – and with Kell’s choice made, it’s Holland or nothing. So … Holland it is. Oh, and he doesn’t need Kell’s access to Red London either, because he’s got a token, he’s got an Antari body, and now he’s got what appears to be complete control. Osaron/Holland vanishes, leaving Kell screaming in desperation – and me along with him.
So the ‘evil’ Antari is now a puppet in truth. Kell’s capture and his torture-battle with Osaron might have cost Rhy his life after all. And Lila, dear, trigger-happy, incautious Lila, has gone charging off after her maybe-yes-maybe-no sweetheart, hellbent on saving both of the Maresh boys. Somehow. From something.
This. THIS is how you write a cliffhanger: the book literally ends with Lila opening her own portal to White London to go after Kell, while Osaron/Holland comes for Red London and Emery is left holding Rhy’s unconscious body. EVERYTHING IS AWFUL. THANK GOD I HAVE THE NEXT BOOK ALREADY.
So hats off to Ms Schwab; her books were already like delightful fanfic-inspired fantasy crack, and I was on the edge of addiction. Now, I couldn’t quit if I wanted to. I mean, along the way I’ve had questions about the worldbuilding, mostly of the interested/curious/charmed variety. There is certainly room to expand on some of the glimpses of that world that we’ve been given. But if there’s too much story to tell, and too many characters’ lives to entangle further, well. I can live with that, if it’s these characters and this story.
I want to find out what Lila is and where she came from. Will Grey London rediscover magic? What will Osaron’s intended conquest of Red London mean for White London, newly blossoming but probably still quite fragile, and definitely politically vulnerable? Will Rhy live? Will Emery stay for him? How far will Kell (have to) go to stop Osaron, and will he manage to save Holland while he’s at it?
I HAVE SO MANY DELICIOUS QUESTIONS. The biggest one now, though, is how many more surprises can Schwab spring on me with the final book? I CANNOT WAIT TO FIND OUT. It’s going to be popcorn and tissues all the way, isn’t it? I bet it is.
And I’m here for it.