The Middle Book Syndrome


It is said that middle children are always the more difficult ones, neither here nor there. Caught as they are between the adulation of the first and the adoration of the youngest. The same seems to hold good for trilogies of novels. Authors it would appear treat their books in the same way that parents do their middle child. They know that that the middle one is necessary to connect the beginning and the end, to complete the picture, so to speak. But they do not know what else to do with it and the poor child/book ends up somewhat lacking substance.

So we should not have been surprised when upon reading A Gathering of Shadows by V E Schwab we wanted to scream in frustration. After reading the first book, A Darker Shade of Magic, which we reviewed a short while back, we were eagerly awaiting the second installment in the series.

LL: Why is it that the middle book only sets the scene for the third one but does not substantially add to the story?

PS: I feel that The Gathering of Shadows’ saving grace as far as reader interest goes is the introduction of Alucard Emery, captain of the ship the Copper Thief, sometime pirate and now a privateer.

LL: He seems to be the only person other than Lila, getting under everyone’s skin. In varying ways, of course. While the first book was restricted to the different Londons in the parallel worlds, this one has introduced the different races on the Red London world. That was a bit of a surprise.

PS:  We get the impression that even the other Londons come into the story, only to set the scene for what is to come next. A major chunk of the book is taken up with the tournament of magicians in Red London. Somehow there are a lot of tournaments in books these days, unto death or otherwise. A fallout of the Hunger Games?

LL: But seriously, I do not see what purpose the tournament served other than to fill in space and proclaim the now discovered magical capabilities of Lila Bard. There was no conclusion on any level of any part of the storyline in the book.

PS: Other than the tournament, which is anyway a filler. Second books work better for the reader when there is something that happens and concludes within that book while the larger story continues to the next one.

Although enjoyable in the character development, introduction of one or two newer characters and the psychological impact of the bond formed between Kell and Prince Rhy at the end of the previous book, The Gathering of Shadows left us with considerable irritation. And it is a long wait till next year for the third book. Yet we live in hope with each middle book that we pick up, we hope that the writer would be considerate to the readers.



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