Book review: A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab

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A Conjuring of Light was one of my most anticipated books of 2017. I adored both A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, so to say that my expectations were high for A Conjuring of Light would be an understatement. I love this world. I love these characters. This book, though? Don’t shoot me, but I didn’t love it.

I mean, obviously. I’m the kind of person that can power through a 600-page book in a couple nights. This book, at 624 pages, took me nearly two months. And yes, I suppose a big part of that was my library copy expiring while I was moving and then having to wait for eight people to read it before I could have it back, but still. Had I really wanted to finish it that badly, I would have either a) driven to the library to pick up a paper copy, b) driven to Barnes & Noble to buy my own paper copy, or c) just bought the ebook for myself from Amazon. And since I did none of those three things, it’s pretty clear that I didn’t really care that much about waiting.

It’s not that the writing’s bad. Because it’s not. But the book is too long. A hundred pages of fighting and bleeding could have been cut out without really affecting the plot. Like, I get it. Antari bleed. It’s their thing. But how many times can I read about these characters being tortured before I just start rolling my eyes? And how many times can I read about someone pulling out their dagger to kill someone else before I start skimming? The body count in this book is insane.

Plotwise, the first half of this book is pretty slow. That’s the part that I really slogged through. I read the last 50% over a couple hours on Memorial Weekend, but getting there was sure a hassle. There are some things that were kind of confusing, like Maxim’s whole plan to stop Osaron, but I think that Schwab meant for them to be that way. (I hope?) But, speaking of Maxim and his plan, why couldn’t all of these characters talk to each other like grown-ups and share their plans? Maybe fewer people could have died.

Spoilers ahead, because I don’t think I can fully articulate my feelings about this book in a spoiler-free review.

I loved Lila in the previous books. She took a little while to grow on me because she was just so reckless, but once she did, she was firmly implanted in my heart. Until this book. What, Lila gets a little magic and suddenly she thinks she’s unstoppable? She becomes even more reckless and cocky and, honestly, stupid. I just wanted to take her aside and say to her, “Lila. You just found out you have magic and you don’t even know how to use it yet. Maybe calm down.” I was constantly frustrated with her actions and how all the other characters would repeatedly come to her rescue without calling her out on what she’d done wrong.

Kell is one of those characters that I adored from the first page of the first book. He was such a wonderful person, so focused on doing the right thing and protecting his family and keeping all of the worlds safe that he rarely took the time to do anything for himself. What a good guy. It’s a shame that he’s relegated to Lila’s boring love interest in this book. Honestly, one of the things I appreciated most about the rest of this series was the lack of emphasis on romance. Sure, Lila and Kell had some serious sexual tension (and don’t get me wrong, I loved it!) but the focus was on the magic. On the action. In this book, it seemed like the focus shifted more toward their feelings for each other, which was awkward and out of place considering the bigger conflicts that were brewing.

And now let’s get to some characters that will stick with me. You know, I’ve read reviews before where people have said that certain characters are like their children. That they want to adopt them and keep them safe. I had not one, not two, but three of those characters in this book. I finally get it. I’m not sure that I’ve ever been as affected by a character as I was in this book.

The first is Luc. I was kind of indifferent to him in the previous books. As this book started, I was mad at him for breaking Rhy’s heart. I didn’t really feel anything when we watched his sister die. (I know, I’m an awful person.) But slowly, as the book progressed, he found his way into my heart. As he stayed behind to give the three Antari a fighting chance, I begged the universe to let Luc live. (Mostly because I didn’t want Rhy to lose anyone else, but still.) And then, as he showed Rhy the memory of his brother’s reaction to their relationship, I lost it. I have a guest room, Luc. Please move in so I can keep you safe from homophobic brothers.

Second, Rhy. I’ve always had a soft spot for him, but I feel like his character grew so much in this book. He’s not just a flirty, tortured soul anymore. He is such a good person, and he tried so hard to do what was right for his people. This young man had to watch both his mother and father die horrible deaths in this book. Although he knew it would happen at some point, he suddenly found himself king at the worst possible time – amid a war with the very personification of evil. And despite mourning his parents, he stepped up and faced that evil head on. What a guy. You and Luc can both live in my guest room.

I don’t really recall my reaction to Holland in the first two books. Vague dislike, I guess. But, my goodness, now I’m not sure whether I want to marry this guy or bring him home and shield him from everything negative ever. This guy is my shining star. The light of my life. My only reason for slogging through this beast of a book. Like, let me love you, Holland. You deserve the world and more for so many reasons.

  • Talk about a complex character. Holland didn’t have too much depth to him at the beginning of the series, but my goodness, Schwab makes up for that here. Did Holland do evil things? Yes. Did he murder scores of innocent people? Yes. But in this book, we get the reason why, and it just absolutely tore my heart to shreds.
  • So, basically, nobody has ever loved this guy. And everybody – literally, everybody – that he’s ever loved, or even so much as cared about, has tried to murder him for their own gain. He was a small child the first time someone tried to murder him, and I just can’t. Let me love you. Let me keep you safe.
  • When Holland’s life finally starts looking up, the king that kept him (relatively) safe is brutally murdered and Holland is bound to some evil twins who force him to kill the entire castle staff. He literally cannot resist. And then they force him to kill even more people, basically just for fun. Every morning, he counts his dead. Break my heart a little more, why don’t you.
  • He’s briefly freed from the Athos twins and then bound by some evil, power-hungry demon god. He’s forced to do more things that he doesn’t want to do. When he’s finally free of the evil demon god’s hold, he’s arrested and held captive by Maxim for trying to overthrow the crown or whatever. Like, okay, it wasn’t his fault. He was actually possessed. He’s never had free will in his entire adult life and you literally cannot hold his actions against him.
  • Despite all of this, despite Kell and Lila and the entire Maresh family and the whole kingdom of Arnes openly despising him, he still volunteers to help overthrow evil demon god Osaron. He goes so far as to save Lila’s life as she’s bleeding out in the street due to her own stupidity (!) even though she constantly belittled him, made snide comments to and about him, and had a generally awful attitude toward him. (I can’t honestly say that I would have done the same in his position.) In saving the world from Osaron, Holland’s magic is stolen. He’s empty. And then he just like… leans over and dies. I mean. What.

Why would you make me care about a character so much only to kill him off? Can I get an AU where Holland Vosijk lives and is happy and safe and appreciated? Where he can make his own decisions and be free from the crushing guilt he feels for things he did that he had absolutely no control over? This kid saved the world and he died a despised criminal. The worst thing is that I knew Holland was going to die because I saw a spoiler. (Tag your spoilers, please.) I think that’s a big reason that I put off finishing this book.

I saw a review that talked about how the whole book suffers because of Holland. And at first, I was really upset by that, because, to me, Holland was the best part of this book. And then I realized. I literally did not care at all about our main characters because I was so focused on Holland. Nothing Kell or Lila did could possibly hold a candle to Holland, the boy who had already lost everything, who was already despised by the entirety of Red London, who still tried his hardest, gave up his magic and his life to save them.

(As a side note, I actually really love the name Holland… Like I might name one of my hypothetical future children Holland. Imagine that conversation. “Mom, where did my name come from?” “Oh, honey, just a mistreated former villain from a book I only rated three stars.”)

So, yeah. Clearly, I’m bitter about Holland, but there were so many unnecessary deaths in this book. Why did Hastra have to die? He was just deciding that he wanted to grow flowers and be a happy, serene priest and then he’s just run through with a sword? Why? And Lenos, Mr. “I Have A Bad Feeling,” whose bad feelings you are always supposed to trust isn’t trusted and then he dies. And so many other people die. And maybe if everybody had just paid attention when Lenos said something was off, maybe he and Hastra would still be alive. But no, the body count apparently needed to be raised, so we lost two more great characters.

But Kell and Lila are fine. They’re sailing off into the sunset. It just hurts a little bit when Kell does magic. Ask me if I care. I’ll trade Kell’s magic for Holland’s life any day.

(Another side note: Instead of that cheesy scene at the end where Kell and Lila quite literally sail off into the sunset happily ever after, I would have taken the actual backstory of Kell’s life. Where did he come from? Who are his parents? What does KL stand for? I really wanted some resolution there, and no, taking the information and then burning because his adoptive family is more important is not a resolution.)

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading what is surely the longest book review I’ve ever written. It’s over 2,000 words, which could easily pass for a respectable college essay. I’m just very passionate about this world and these characters.

This is a book that has been adored by thousands of people, so please don’t take my criticisms as a reason not to read it. If you’ve read the first two books in the series, definitely get out there and grab this book. You might be mad when you finish reading it, but you certainly won’t regret finding out what happens to all of these characters in the end.

Final rating: ★★★☆☆

#mmdreading: a book that’s more than 600 pages

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