A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
A Conjuring of Light (2017) brings V.E. Schwab’s multi-world trilogy to a close while leaving plenty of room for future stories in the SHADES OF MAGIC universe. We (Bill and Marion) both read it, and we share their thoughts about the third book below. This review may contain light spoilers for A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows.
A Gathering of Shadows ended on a cliffhanger. In the opening chapter of A Conjuring of Light, Delilah Bird has entered the world of White London to save Kell, who has fought off possession by a demon of animated magic far more powerful than the one they’ve faced before. Kell’s battle once again puts Prince Rhy of Red London at risk, and in the early chapters the action switches between Lila’s knife duel with a White London adversary and Prince Rhy’s struggles back home.
Kell and Lila return home, where the royal family and the surviving champions of the Element Games are barricaded. Each attempt to fight off the demon Osaron, now loose in Red London, fails, while the entity of animated magic, who wants more subjects, more adoration, simply more, begins to take over the city. Within the palace walls, Prince Rhy, King Maxim, and Queen Emira must fight off plots and betrayals from the foreign magicians who are trapped with them. Finally, Kell, Lila, Alucard, and the captured Avanti magician Holland set off on a desperate quest for the one artifact that might save them. The quest itself is deadly dangerous, it is possible the artifact won’t work, and even if it does, Lila, Kell, Alucard, and Holland must learn to trust each other and work together if they are to save the world of Red London and its neighbor, non-magical Grey London.
Marion: I thought the magical system in this entire series was refreshing and interesting, and I was captivated by the characters in Book One. By the time we got to A Conjuring of Light, though, I felt the momentum was flagging. This book is 624 pages long and I did not think Schwab needed that page-count to tell her story. Structurally, I found the short chapters and short sections made for choppy reading.
Bill: I admit to being more than a little surprised at the heft when I pulled my copy out of the shipping box. I thought the story moved along pretty quickly — I happily read it in a single sitting — but while I didn’t think it lagged (I had more of issue on that with book two), I also didn’t think all the scenes were necessary, and so I’d agree she didn’t need the page count. Plus, I’m typically not a fan of this type of structure — a lot of brief chapters — and while it bothered me less in A Conjuring of Light just because I think Schwab’s prose is so smooth, I agree it at times felt choppy and a bit distracting.
Marion: The choppiness compounded the fact that, except for Holland, the interior struggles each character faces hit a plateau, never deepening. I was disappointed that one very elaborately set up back-story mystery is never resolved for readers. After brooding about it for three books, the character suddenly decides that answers about heritage and early life just don’t matter.
Bill: Yes to all of that. Generally, I’m not sure anyone ends up much different here than in the prior book, whether in their personal development or in their relationships. That isn’t to say relationships or characters aren’t at a different point, but I’d say we saw the glide path to those points earlier in the series and these were basically small evolutions or just continuations, which again begs the question about the page count. And that specific scene bothered me as well. I wonder, while we’re on structure and character, what you thought of the flashback scenes with Holland. While, again, they were smoothly written, and had their moments, I didn’t feel a need for them, nor did I think they grew the character any more fully or in a different direction than he’d already been. Thoughts?
Holland was actually the most convincing character to me, so I was predisposed to like those scenes, and I think they were meant to prepare us for the final scene with Holland, which I read as a sacrifice. I think that Holland is White London’s tragic hero. That said, his meeting with the king before the sadistic Dane twins would have served the purpose. For me they went on a bit too long.
I also thought that the skullduggery within the palace, while it advanced a certain part of the plot for Prince Rhy, was too convenient to the story.
We seem to be agreeing a lot. I think you’re right on Holland’s final scene. In many ways he was my favorite character if not the most “fun” one. The others were nice to spend time with, had good banter, and some nice emotional moments, but Holland more consistently felt a more solid through and through character, one with a lot of depth and facets. As far as your other points, I much preferred the outside-the-palace scenes in terms of Rhy’s development than the in-the-palace intrigue, which felt a bit forced, out of the blue, slightly implausible, and too easily dealt with. Not that there weren’t consequences, but still. I thought the magical market also a bit convenient, and that the “character dealt a mortal blow — oh no! — but then survives — yay magic!” card was played a few times too many.
I loved the magical market. There were several other things I really enjoyed. The increasing threat to Grey London, which only one person can hear, was quite suspenseful. I loved that the people who survived the contagion had the silver tracery on their skin. And the ship voyage was good.
I loved the idea of the market. And its owner. But what resulted from it felt a bit too pat. Though I also enjoyed the voyage there, as well as the scenes in Grey London. In fact, I wouldn’t have minded spending a little more time there. The other London (White London?) seemed betwixt and between. I either wanted to spend more time there so I felt invested in that POV and place, or I didn’t need to be there at all, because the little we saw felt so cursory. What did you think of our time there?
I wanted to see more of White London as a city, not just as a contrast to thriving, vivid Red London, not just as a cautionary tale. One place that could have happened was in those flashbacks.
I do want to say, that while we talk about Schwab’s polished prose, I don’t know if I’ve said how much I like her descriptions, especially the visuals. I think she had a lot of fun, in particular, with Lila’s various outfits (even though Lila would be shocked to think of herself as a clothes-horse). Part of what makes these books such fast, entertaining reads is the imagery.
Yes. Reading the above paragraphs, it looks like I had a lot of issues, but her prose really is so smooth and engaging that it carried me along quite contentedly despite those issues, making the overall reading experience an enjoyable one. Beyond the strong visuals and smooth dialogue, I liked the moments she stepped a bit out of narrative and took on a more removed, grander sort of voice, as when she talked about the beginning of a particular myth.
A Conjuring of Light is a 3.5 for me. While obviously I had some issues, this whole series was a fast-paced adventure in an interesting new world. I think A Conjuring of Light ably wraps up the trilogy and I’m glad I read it.
Overall, for me, this was a solid 4-star series. Outside of a few spots in book two, it flew along smoothly and quickly, kept my attention, had engaging characters and an interesting premise. I didn’t fall in love with it, wasn’t blown away by it stylistically or narratively, but none of my relatively minor issues in any way precluded me from enjoying it throughout the run. I’ll happily take that.