Book Review: A Conjuring of Light
As I wrote a few weeks ago, A Conjuring of Light was my most anticipated book of 2017. Both of Schwab's previous books in the series were wonderful reads with a fully developed world(s), nuanced characters, clever magic and terrifying villains.
It will shock no one to learn that the conclusion to the Shades of Magic series is no different.
A Conjuring of Light picks up exactly where A Gathering of Shadows ended. Kell has been captured and taken to White London where, after refusing to play host to the oshoc, he's in incredible pain. Since Kell is cut off from his magic, Rhy is dying back in Red London. To save them both, Lila travels to White London under her own power, even as the oshoc, now fully possessing Holland, arrives in Red London to stage a takeover.
Part of what's remarkable about this book is how little time passes in its early chapters. The plot flies by as the oshoc immediately creates chaos in Red London and takes over the minds of Red London's citizens. The first third of the book passes in a span of hours as Lila rescues Kell and brings him back to a palace under siege. But the early speed of the plot gives the book a sense of desperate urgency, so that even when the book does slow down as our heroes leave Red London to search for a solution, we never lose the feeling that they have to hurry or all might be lost.
There's also a few twists I definitely didn't see coming, one in particular unrelated to the oshoc. Even in a crisis, assholes are still assholes, and Schwab plays with that infuriating realism to great effect.
But more than anything, Schwab is a master of character, and it's on display here in spades. Kell has grown a lot since the start of the series, but here he takes on more leadership and responsibility than ever before. He also has to learn to work with two people he hates, Holland and Alucard. Lila, meanwhile, has to come to terms with her power as an Antari. Her reckless, carefree attitude provides a balanced counterpoint to Kell; she's not running here, and she's not irresponsible, but she is more relaxed and willing to take risks than he is. As every reader likely expected, their relationship deepens here.
While Kell and Lila may be the biggest heart of the book, they are by no means the only ones. Rhy struggles with his second near-death experience, but powers through once he learns that his unique condition makes him immune to certain properties of the oshoc's magic. In many ways, this entire book is his transition from prince to king, from simply loving his people to accepting more responsibility and putting his safety (via Kell) on the line to defend them. Against that backdrop, Alucard tries to redeem himself in Rhy's eyes and explain the events that drove them apart years ago. He survives the fever disease of the oshoc and helps Kell, Lila and Holland acquire the mcguffins they need to win.
And then there are the darker arcs. Holland has always been heartbreakingly tragic, but his ruthlessness and different philosophy on power have, til now, still cast him as a villain. It's only here that we really see his heroic qualities come into play. He works through his flaws to atone for them, sacrificing himself to save a world not his own. Schwab plays up this tragic hero angle through regular flashbacks that explain Holland's backstory since his childhood, up through Athos Dane's binding. Honestly, I just wanted to give Holland a hug.
Finally, there are the unexpected character arcs, the new windows we get into Maxim and Emira Maresh. Emira struggles with the weight of her past decisions on how to raise Rhy and Kell, which gives us insight not only into her but also into why Rhy and Kell are as inseparable as they are. I've never liked Maxim in any of the previous books (I'm not sure we were meant to), but the first tears I shed reading this book were for him. If you needed any proof of Schwab's mastery of character, that's it.
In fact, there's a beautiful meditation somewhere in here on the meaning of heroism and the many forms it can take, as well as a meditation on what makes a villain and how a villain can be redeemed. I don't want to give anything huge away so I won't write it, but it deserves a mention.
If it sounds like I'm gushing, I am. There's so much to appreciate in Schwab's writing here, both from a craft perspective as an author and from an enjoyment perspective as a reader. She brings this series to a close with a bittersweet, emotional ending (I need someone to make me a really beautiful "anoshe" print or something), yet leaves us eminently satisfied.
Schwab also doesn't close the door on another story in this universe, and while this one is definitely ended, I would love to revisit Kell and Lila, Rhy and Alucard, many years later if a story permits.
If not, well, I'll just re-read this one once a year.