A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Book One of the Kingdom on Fire series
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher
Summary (from Goodreads):
I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?
Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen one, the girl who will defeat the Ancients, bloodthirsty demons terrorizing humanity. She also meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her power and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.
But Henrietta Howel is not the chosen one.
As she plays a dangerous game of deception, she discovers that the sorcerers have their own secrets to protect. With battle looming, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?
Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces a powerful, unforgettably heroine, and a world filled with magic, romance, and betrayal. Hand to fans of Libba Bray, Sarah J. Maas, and Cassandra Clare.
What I Liked:
I actually didn't know much about this book before reading it. I'd seen many positive early reviews for the book, and usually hype turns me off. But I decided to give this book a shot anyway, because, well, fantasy. I love fantasy, and YA fantasy tends to be good. I'm pleased to say that I did enjoy this book, and I look forward to reading book two.
Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. But females with any sort of magical power are executed, typically. When she is discovered one day, she is taken from the school she teaches at, and brought to study and learn her power. There are six young men also in training to be sorcerers. Henrietta is told that she is the chosen one, the girl-child of sorcerer stock. But Henrietta is not the chosen one. She discovers this, but cannot risk the sorcerers finding out. But the war with the Ancients (monsters) is even more dangerous than her secrets.
What an intriguing, engaging story. I had no trouble reading this book, and I practically flew through the 400+ pages. Once I started the book, I was hooked. There are no lag at any point, no spots of boredom. I couldn't read it fast enough, to be honest! The author got the pacing right, perfect for the story.
I really love that Henrietta isn't the "chosen one". I'm kind of sick of prophecies and chosen ones and such, and so it was kind of relief to be told upfront that she wouldn't be the chosen one. It takes a while, until the end of the story, for everyone else to learn of this. But we're still not aware of who the girl in the prophecy actually is. Fascinating!
The story is brilliantly played out. Henrietta goes to Master Agrippa's home, and begins to learn how to control and wield her powers with Agrippa, as well as six boys also in training. Time goes on, and Henrietta is utterly failing at lessons. Why? She finds out, in a rather surprising way, that she isn't what they want her to be. She's not the chosen one. And so she begins to try and hone her power, with the help of an unexpected ally, to try and pass as a sorcerer and get the commendation from the Queen. All the while Ancients are flooding the city and killing people everywhere they go. And Henrietta's friend Rook is suffering at the hands of darkness.
So there are seven important young men in the story. The six sorcerers, Blackwood, Magnus, Dee, Cellini, Wolff, and Lambe, are all very different, yet interesting in their own ways. Blackwood is a brooding, sullen young earl. Magnus is a shameless flirt. Dee is a playful student. Cellini is the foreigner, and Italian. Wolff and Lambe (hehe) are quiet and a little recluse, and tend to stick to themselves. And then there is Rook, Henrietta's friend from the school. She insisted that he come with her to Agrippa's mansion, as the pair do not separate. They've been friends since they were little, and are very close.
I guess it's time for me to talk about the romance... whatever shape the publisher is trying to sell (love triangle, square, heptagon), it's wrong. There is no love triangle in this book. Really, there isn't concrete romance at all. Of the six boys, only two, in my opinion, COULD be love interests. Rook, Magnus, and Blackwood COULD be love interests. Rook, I'm ruling out because of reasons. Magnus, I'm also ruling out, though he is the one that presents the strongest case. Blackwood is the one I hope to be an actual love interest. He has the Darcy archetype going on, and he definitely has the Darcy effect. I really, really like Blackwood. Not that I don't like the others. But as a love interest, I'm all for Blackwood. But then, there was nothing romantic between Blackwood and Henrietta. So me hoping that Blackwood will be a love interest could be wishful thinking. I have a feeling that there will be development with Blackwood though. The seeds were definitely planted in this book, in a subtle manner. *crosses fingers*
So far, no love interest has strongly presented himself. There are a lot of boys, and I personally think one of three of the seven boys COULD be a love interest, but none of them are presenting a strong case to me at the moment. I do have a favorite though.
And in the end, Henrietta doesn't really need a love interest to define her. At the moment, she's doing just fine on her own. I want to see a strong romantic relationship with one of those boys develop (just one, though), but that can happen later in the series. I like that it didn't happen in book one.
No cliffhanger ending in this book, but things definitely aren't resolved. And we know that this is book one of a series. The story ended a little... cliche, in my opinion. I know there are books to follow, but I expected a different ending. It was a good ending, and it fit the story just fine, I just expected something else. I'm excited to see where book two takes us!
I can't think of anything specific at the moment, though I'm sure there are little things that stuck out to me while I was reading the book. I don't dislike the romance, but I hope to see a stronger and more clear romance in the next books. And more about Henrietta's father, and the chosen one. And the bit about the ivy (read the book and you'll know what I mean). All in good time, I'm sure!
Would I Recommend It:
I do recommend this book - I see why it's so hyped and why so many people have loved it already. I would caution those who are wary of the love triangle (or square or whatever). There is none right now, but I suppose there could be (especially with the sheer number of boys who are in the story -- though, like I said, most of them are not love interests or even potential love interests). Maybe wait until book two publishes to see how the romance goes. Typically by the end of book two, you have a clear idea of exactly where the romance is going. Usually, but not always.
Nevertheless, this IS a great fantasy story.
4 stars. A well-written, enjoyable fantasy debut that is every bit as adventurous and magical as I expected. I am looking forward to reading the next book!
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