In truth, Schwab’s matter-of-fact prose plunged too far into the unfortunate ‘telling’ territory. And her miscalculated attempts to throw in some final paradigm shifts cast an amateurish tone over the characters’ voices. But lacing up the loose ends well (and leaving all the right ones free) is half the battle when it comes to concluding instalments, so I must give Schwab well-deserved credit for doing such a masterful job. I stand by my four stars.
While Schwab’s penchant for s p e l l i n g o u t her characters’ emotions was already noticeable in the first two novels, the passages were far less frequent and drawn-out (and hence less glaringly obtrusive). Even more exasperatingly, many of the passages in A Conjuring of Light simply repeated the same tiresome internal ‘dilemmas’ in the preceding books. (If I drank every time I read yet another paragraph on Lila’s instinct to run or kill Alucard or otherwise sever relationships, I would have been too intoxicated to read past the first few sections.) The multiple chapters drumming home Holland’s perfectly obvious tragic selflessness also rang exploitative (Look! How he suffers so!), ironically curtailing the empathy that a more experiential approach would have stirred. As the saying goes, “Don’t tell me the moon is shining, show me the glint of light on broken glass!”
This was all the more a shame because Schwab is capable of ‘showing’ – Nasi’s point of view is a perfect example, painting just the right layer of grey over Okja’s character without any expository embellishments. As is Tieren’s poignant memory of the first time he saw Emira cry. In contrast, Emira’s flashback and monologue came across more as a hurried afterthought than a convincing reveal. Personally, her past added little to the strained family dynamic – the existing reasons in the first two books were understandable enough.
Other plot developments were similarly under-explained. The weaker-willed [highlight to show spoiler] becoming infected and the strong-willed [highlight] becoming immune made intuitive sense, but it failed to explain why other just as strong-willed people [highlight] burned. Why did Maxim think it was a wise or necessary move to [highlight] sacrifice himself when Tieren’s spell and the palace wards were working perfectly fine? When the Antari had a solid plan – which he himself knew was “the strategy with the highest odds” – and had not even returned yet? He did not expect to defeat Osaron, that was clear. In fact, I wasn’t sure what he wanted to achieve. Was the momentary reprieve really worth it?
What Schwab did continue to excel at was, like with Okja, painting her characters in shifting shades of grey (excepting only Osaron, but he was corrupt magic incarnate, so I suppose that was fair). Holland is the obvious example, but Schwab’s gift extended to even a character so minor that she was mentioned in only a handful of scenes and who only ever fought to bring down the protagonists.
And of course, the loose ends. The ending was bittersweet and poignant, shouldering hope into the next chapter of Arnes’ history without diluting the terrible loss that immediately preceded it. What I loved even more was how Kell chose to keep his early past a mystery. It was a brief but incredibly moving moment, especially after the full depth of his and Rhy’s brotherhood was demonstrated in A Gathering of Shadows. Like most readers, of course I was burning to know more earlier in the series, but Kell finding peace was a far more fitting resolution. And when Schwab teased her readers with an excerpt that suggested Holland finds love, I was extremely sceptical. Throwing in a new character in the final book would have been too abrupt, given how utterly broken Holland believes himself to be. I may sound cold-hearted, but I was relieved when it ended up being a flashback. Holland’s actual ending was beautifully done, and his dream and the final White London line made me wonder… did he trigger the return of magic? If it did, and it took his death, then it is truly, truly tragic. Though the serenity of the moment made it slightly more okay.
Which is why, all things considered, I stand by my four stars. It was impossible to not be invested in every vividly three-dimensional character. The pacing slackened in the flashbacks, yes, but most of them contributed to the aforementioned three-dimensionality. Nothing was too deus ex machina. The ending was perfect. Anoshe, Kell, Lila, Rhy, Alucard, Arnes. A wonderful final act.
Favourite quote: “What are we drinking to?” “The living,” said Rhy. “The dead,” said Alucard and Lila at the same time. “We’re being thorough,” added Rhy.
For my reviews on A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows, the first and second books, please click here and here.