Warning: ALL the spoilers.
A precarious equilibrium among the four Londons has reached its breaking point. Once brimming with the red vivacity or magic, darkness casts a shadow over the Maresh Empire, leaving space for another London to rise. Kell – once assumed to be the last surviving Antari – begins to waver under the pressure of competing loyalties. Lila Bard, once a commonplace – but never common – thief, has survived and flourished through a series of magical trials. But now she must learn to control the magic, before it bleeds her cry.
Meanwhile, the disgraced Captain Alucard Emery and the Night Spire Crew are attempting a race against time to acquire the impossible, as an ancient enemy returns to claim a crown and a fallen hero is desperate to save a decaying world…
In my review for A Gathering of Shadows, I talked about my love for the series coming out of my connection to the characters – a connection which, to be totally honest, I don’t often form when reading fantasy novels. I wrote that I generally find that in such books, plot has a higher importance than character development, which is fine for some. But me? I’m really more of a character-driven reader.
I had started to think that maybe you could only have one element, that perhaps a dense, fantastical plot always meant two-dimensional characters.
Nope. Somehow, Shwab does both.
And she does it good.
A Conjuring of Light, on the surface, is a book about a kingdom battling for survival against a huge and inexplicable evil.
Don’t get me wrong. I was into it. Osaron is terrifying! And that scene when he kills King Maxim? Harrowing. The Ferase Stras? Let’s go. Maybe Maris will give me a job. I can totally see myself working in a magical floating market.
But perhaps even more than its twisting, breath-taking and at times, heart-wrenching plot, A Conjuring of Light was a book about change and how that fucker is always coming for you.
Kell has known since A Darker Shade of Magic that his life as a glorified messenger boy is not enough for him. This dissatisfaction shows itself in various ways, from illegal smuggling of objects between worlds, to blindly following strange women (how could he not tell Ojka was a sketchy individual? It’s as if knowing Lila had taught him nothing) into unknown dangers. Kell’s desire to leave the palace is at odds with his loyalty to his kingdom and his love for his family, especially that for his brother. As a result, this unfulfilled desire comes out in self (and sometimes kingdom) destructive behaviours. In case none of that made it obvious enough what this guy really wants, he goes and falls in love with Delilah Bard, the girl who will never stop wandering.
‘Her hands were bandaged, a deep scratch ran along her jaw, and Rhy watched as his brother moved toward her as naturally as if the world had simply tipped. For Kell, apparently, it had.’
Meanwhile the responsibility party-boy Rhy has spent almost his entire princedom avoiding becomes his own with the deaths of his parents. While most of what was childlike about Rhy has, over the course of the book been shed, it isn’t until his parents die, particularly his mother, that we really start to see him as an adult. In Emira – who’s perspective I adored – we see Rhy infantilised. When Emira found out she was pregnant, she grieved like someone had died because she knew that she would spend the rest of her life living in fear that Rhy would die. She wanted to protect him from everything to the point that she cast the boy meant to be his brother – Kell – in the role of bodyguard. She made Rhy into his party-boy self because that was safer for him than being king. And for Rhy the worst had to happen – he had to actually die – before he was able to shed the idea of himself as to be protected and become a fighter instead. It’s an identity that becomes fully realised once both his parents are gone.
I think that what made both these storylines quite so painfully real to me is that both boys had the ability to prevent the other from growing. Kell could leap in and keep Rhy from acting using magic, and Rhy at the end, ‘knew he could make him [Kell] stay, and knew he couldn’t bear to do it.’
There is a sense that these characters know what they have isn’t enough, but are afraid to let it go all the same. Lila, to an extent, serves as a foil to this. She is an expert at letting go. Running is her default setting, whereas staying presents more of a challenge. For Lila, the process was the opposite. She has to learn to let people in, rather than just let them go.
Schwab’s characters all break themselves out of their cages. While, you know, dominating evil and restoring peace to all the Londons.
It took me a minute, but ultimately, I adored this series. Schwab’s rich prose weaves a complicated and magical world, and her characters will live in my imagination for many years to come.
As much as I always claim not to care, I’m dreading them making a sub-standard teen movie out of this one.