It’s been four months since Lila Bard left Red London, four months since Athos and Astrid Dane’s fall, four months since a terrible dark magic threatened to consume a city, but life hasn’t reverted to normal for Kell. If anything it’s like the calm before the storm. He is restless but the walls are closing in around him. Now more than ever he feels like the property of the Arnesian crown and the awe of the citizens has been replaced by fear and distrust.
He’s always felt the responsibility of protecting his brother, Rhy, but now that their lives are inextricably linked the weight of it threatens to crush him. He needs some way to channel his emotions and the growing force of magic, and Rhy has orchestrated the perfect scenario to do just that.
The Essen Tasch or the Element Games is a magical tournament is set to be hosted in the Arnesian capital. The finest magicians from Arnes, Vesk and Faro will compete to win the title. As an Antari, Kell is forbidden from taking part but the competitors in the game are masked and he’s never been good at sticking to the rules, especially when Rhy is involved. He’s not the only entrant to hide their identity. Grey Londoner and thief extraordinaire Lila Bard has returned to Red London after months at sea on the Night Spire. Her captain Alucard Emery is set to compete in the games, but Lila’s own power has been growing and she is keen to test her abilities.
Bringing three countries together for the games reveals the politics and tensions between the neighbouring countries. It also demonstrates Schwab’s skilled world-building. The different countries have their own attitudes towards magic, and their beliefs and cultures mirror that. Some believe that those touched by magic are blessed, others believe it is a matter of chance. There are those that think magic is in everything, in the very air, and others who think that it is the body that acts as a vessel. Schwab weaves these beliefs into the narrative expertly.
The reader comes into contact with these different cultures without being transported to these lands, which highlights Kell’s own sense of entrapment. He has the ability to travel wherever he wants in a matter of moments, and yet obligation, responsibility and to some degree love have tied him to Arnesian capital. It’s this scenario that Lila runs from, she doesn’t want to be chained down, and friends and family can do that, so she has spent her life keeping people at distance. Her new captain, Alucard, is charismatic and finds ways of catching her off-guard but he couldn’t make her stay, and neither could Kell. She’s such a compelling character; ruthless and selfish, but passionate and resilient. You might not want to meet her in a dark alley, but you would be grateful to have her as an ally on an adventure or in a fist-fight.
Lila has always seemed wild and dangerous, but Kell has become untamed since the end of A Darker Shade of Magic. He is not the self-contained magician of the first novel. He is bubbling with emotion and power, and his control is slipping. It’s interesting to see how Lila considers laying down roots, while Kell contemplates what would happen if he ripped them out.
Anyone hoping to see Lila and Kell reunite quickly will be disappointed, but it’s satisfying to see them continue there own stories apart, before they come together again.
I won’t say anything else, other than after finishing this novel on the way to work, I had to go out and buy A Conjuring of Light on my lunch break. I think that says it all.