A conjuring of light by V E Schwab is about twice as long as either of the previous books, A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, which worried me a bit. Through my previous reading adventures, I had become suspicious of 500+ page books because of the amount of padding that is usually involved (and pointless subplots that go nowhere). Clocking in at an absolutely delightful 666 pages, I was ready to like it but not love it like the previous books.
However, the worry was for not, it was just as pacey and enjoyable as the first two in the Shades of Magic series. And perhaps, given the scale of the problem that the characters have to face, the length felt like it was needed. Otherwise, the insurmountable task of defeating the main baddie would seem too easy and assured.
And that, I think, was what sets this book far apart from many other books – in that it gives the resident baddie his own issues and internal conflict. Rather than just being the super powerful, seemingly impossible to defeat, Osaron has his own flaws, arrogance and needs that make him powerful, but not omnipotent. His story also needed time to coalesce, as well as stories of all the main protagonists.
So the plot picks up just as A Gathering of Shadows left off – Kell captured and Osaron off to capture Red London. I first thought that this was the strange bit, that didn’t quite fit, but in reflection it did make sense. We ended in the last book at the end of the massive magician tournament where the delightful and vicious Lila Bard had competed. She of course races off to find Kell and (minor spoiler) gets him back. If I had read this book immediately after that one, I think it wouldn’t have seemed so out of place. But for some reason the break made me pause, perhaps because I thought Lila primarily a thief, rather than the accomplished magician she was becoming.
What was really enjoyable about the book, is the very fractious relationships between the main characters. Some characters love each other, brothers Kell and Rhy are close as two brothers could be. But then Rhy loves Alucard who Kell absolutely despises. This adds some realistic tension to the unreal world – but also some very appreciated humour as well. Not everyone gets along and they can’t just avoid them, they need each other to get a job done.
Schwab also doesn’t shy away from ripping your heart out at various points either (but perhaps not to the unrelenting extent of someone like George R R Martin). So reader, be warned. You may have some feels. SAD FEELS.
The threads and personal conflicts with all the characters are brought to the fore and everyone needs to confront their demons (at various points in time). No one is really spared, Lila, Alucard, Rhy, Kell, Holland and even Queen Elmira and King Maxim. They solve them in different ways, with different levels of self-reflection. They change, but subtly, overcoming the things that made them unhappy but not fundamentally changing the characters we had come to love.
I completely binge-read this book in two sittings (thank you massive cold). The pages flew by and for a big book, it didn’t really feel that long at all.
And Lila Bard is still one of the most delightful characters that I have read in a long time. She is her own person, all the time, and pushes against all convention, normal and magical. Still violent as ever, but my goodness, do we ever need more characters like Lila in fantasy novels.
5/5 stars! A delight.