A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, #1) by Jessica Cluess
Published by Random House BFYR
Published on September 20th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Fantasy & Magic, Historical Fiction, Young Adult
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I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?
Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she's brought to London to train with Her Majesty's sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?
"Unputdownable. I loved the monsters, the magic, and the teen warriors who are their world's best hope! Jessica Cluess is an awesome storyteller!" —Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author
"A fun, inventive fantasy. I totally have a book crush on Rook." —Sarah Rees Brennan, New York Times bestselling author
"Pure enchantment. I love how Cluess turned the 'chosen one' archetype on its head. With the emotional intensity of my favorite fantasy books, this is the kind of story that makes you forget yourself." —Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen
"A glorious, fast-paced romp of an adventure. Jessica Cluess has built her story out of my favorite ingredients: sorcery, demons, romance, and danger."—Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters
I’m going to say the bad things first, because I want you guys to leave this review thinking about all the GOOD things about this book. While it wasn’t AMAZING, it was still pretty damn acceptable for a “hyped new YA fantasy novel.” We get so many these days, and so often they’re really bad and have the same pitfalls: flat characters, self-absorbed protagonist, generic world-building…the list goes on. But A Shadow Bright and Burning fell into NONE of those categories! (Well, a little the first, but not the rest!!! Which is amazing!!!) As I said, it wasn’t mind-blowing, but ASBAB is definitely worth a read.
So here’s the stuff that wasn’t up to par:
- Aside from Nettie, there are (basically) zero females in the entire book. While this is fairly understandable because of various aspects of the world-building, it’s still not quite believable to me that there is not a single other female in Victorian London that would play a role in Nettie’s life. Whenever books have only one female surrounded by male characters, I can’t help but feel a little apprehensive. It’s disappointing to me that us girls are only allowed to have one person to relate to gender-wise in an entire 400-page book.
- This was the biggest problem for me: The world-building was AMAZING (more on that later), but Cluess was unnecessarily not as forthcoming about it as she should have been. Yes, a lot of the things we don’t know are because Nettie doesn’t know about them either, but most of the things we don’t know are because Cluess just didn’t think to mention it! I have this vague idea of a really, really cool alternate Victorian London, but I can’t actually picture it in my head because so many details were left out! Like, there are hobgoblins? What? When did fae get here, and where are the rest, or is it just the one? It’s the little things that really fill in a world, and ASBAB was missing those things.
- There wasn’t really enough development of the side characters. When certain things happen with them, I don’t really feel the emotions I should feel because I just didn’t know enough about them to be surprised.
- The writing itself was pretty mediocre. Then again, maybe this is a plus. So many new YA Fantasy writers spend so much time on their prose that they end up sounding overdramatic, ALL the time, the WHOLE book, CONSTANTLY. This was not the case with ASBAB! On second thought, this was definitely a plus. While nothing special, it also wasn’t distracting. So +1.
As you can see, these aren’t the usual things that tend to turn me away from new YA Fantasy books. There were boys, yes, but Nettie’s relationships with them were believable and not over the top, and totally fine! And the writing wasn’t overdramatic! And the plot wasn’t exactly 1000% predictable, nor did it just throw in an unnecessary plot twist because it felt like it! So many good things!
So here’s the stuff that I liked:
- What I got of the world-building was really, really cool! The setup with the triad of sorcerers, witches, and wizards was really complex, and I can sense a lot more information coming in future books. Actually, I can’t wait for that further exposition! But what I got of it so far has me pretty hooked. I’d say it was a fairly unique setup (as least, one I haven’t read in recent years).
- And can we talk about the bad guys? The Ancients are really cool! If you can’t tell, I’m going to use the world ‘cool’ a lot in this section. I can’t wait to meet the rest of the Ancients, but the ones we did meet were chilling, and monstrous, and scary, and overwhelming, but all in different proportions. So cool.
- As briefly mentioned before, Nettie’s relationships weren’t over-the-top as they often are in YA fantasies. Rather, they were more complex and more believable. That isn’t to say they were “Complex” with a capital C, but they were complex relatively so, and that satisfied me enough to not find fault with them.
- Nettie is a “badass female protagonist” without being labeled as so. So often, new YA authors immediately come up with a character that’s like “omg I’m so badass look at all this shit I can do,” when really the protagonist is just self-absorbed and useless. This was NOT the case with Nettie! Nettie’s life in this book is riddled with problems that she doesn’t know how to solve, but she neither complains about her ineptitude nor boasts about her ability to cope. This was refreshing, and I want every new YA fantasy novel to have Nettie as its protagonist.
So in conclusion, read this book! It wasn’t mind-blowing or amazing or anything like that, but A Shadow Bright and Burning was damn right acceptable! It was refreshing to read a novel that was actually up to par with what I expect from YA fantasy! If that’s all it takes for me to give a book 4 stars, so be it, but I don’t have it in me to give this 3.5 stars. I can’t wait to see the next installment(s), and hopefully those will clear up the problems I had with book one.
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