While A Darker Shade of Magic chose character over world-building, this middle entry to the trilogy seems to have gone the other way. At least with Kell and Lila. Oh sure they say Kell has changed, become more reserved, taking less risks, but you never get a sense of that as its never truly shown to you. It tells you that he is holding back and being responsible, but the next chapter he’s happily sneaking into something oddly reminiscent of the Tri-Wizard tournament a la Harry Potter.
The world on the other hand is fleshed out wonderfully. The empires of Red London are developed, showing you the breadth of this magic drenched land. Following Lila learn magic solved a lot of my issues with the previous novel, as the magics explained to both us and Lila in a variety of ways, and experimented on in a myriad of situations.
“Kell would say it was impossible. What a useless word, in a world with magic.”
As for the plot that holds these tenuous character moments and solid world building together? Well it’s a bit of a disappointment. The main motivator in the plot is the tournament for magicians of the three main empires. They even establish some further stakes with the tournament, and a host of interesting new characters. The problem comes from how little they utilise this set up and potential. The actual tournament isn’t covered thoroughly, the pacing is all over the place, and in the end its climax is underwhelming. After an entire book built around this tournament, it’s conclusion is swept aside in a page, the victor was obvious from the beginning, and the actual climactic fight is worlds away with the half-done B-plot of the book.
I’m disappointed in this book, as you can probably tell. It had so much potential to be epic. Four worlds to explore, intricate magic everywhere, courtly intrigue and politics would have fit in so well with the balls and royalty prevalent throughout the series so far. But no. Issues are dealt with an instant, motivations are one dimensional, and the seemingly vibrant world of Red London shows itself to be built of tissue. Less a gathering of shadows then a meeting of mediocrity.
I can only hope the final book redeems it in some measure.
“Look, everyone talks about the unknown like it’s some big scary thing, but it’s the familiar that’s always bothered me. It’s heavy, builds up around you like rocks, until it’s walls and a ceiling and a cell.”