A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, Book 1) by Jessica Cluess
Synopsis: 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?
About the Author: Jessica Cluess was born in Los Angeles, moved to Chicago, and then moved back when the weather became too weather-y. She wrote her first book, A Shadow Bright and Burning, while working at a coffee shop and selling lattes to the rich and famous. A graduate of Northwestern University, she uses her education to study the vast intricacies of the Victorian era before slapping sorcerers and monsters into the whole mess. She currently lives and works in Los Angeles.
Genre: YA, fantasy, historical fiction
More Info: hardcover, 416 pages, published by Random House Books for Young Readers on September 20, 2016
When Nettie’s power with fire is discovered, she is taken to London to be trained as a sorcerer. She escapes the mistreatment and dull environment of the school she works for and get to live in luxury. She insists on taking her best friend, Rook, with her. Rook has had a run-in with an Ancient and familiars. He is chosen by the demons and favored with their dark power.
As it turns out, Nettie may not actually be the chosen one. Her sorcerer training is falling behind, because she is really a magician. She secretly trains with Jenkins Hargrove, a magician who happened to know her father.
As Nettie progresses, she faces the wrath of the other boys, the destruction of Ancients and familiars, and the betrayal of society. She must overcome her status and her heritage to join the continuous fight of Victorian England.
I liked the beginning the most. It was well developed and well paced. The world is built upon our existent society. Magic is placed on top of religion and hierarchy. There is a perfect medium of exposition. Henrietta is powerful, not just in her magic but in her presence. She is intelligent and curious. She is struggling to find her place is a man’s world, and takes feminism to another level.
There are certainly a lot of twists and turns heading towards and into the end of the novel. However, a lot of these surprises appear out of the blue. Yes, that is what makes a surprise…surprising, but some of the revelations seemed forced. Something new will develop, catching a reader off guard. Then, the shock will be explained through character dialogue and thought. Then you realize that there was no build-up that lead to the twist or turn. If there had been tension or hints, there would be no need to completely spell out the eye-opener. Don’t take me wrong, I enjoyed the surprises because they brought speed and excitement to the book. Yet, I feel as if there were too many ideas. Before one ideas was written and explained, the next was already in motion.
These twists and turns revolve around the characters. That being said, I feel this book was more character driven than plot driven. Specifically, there is more action at the end of the book than throughout the beginning and middle. Back on track.
- Our main character and protagonist, Henrietta (Nettie) Howel, is compassionate to a fault. I love her conviction and determination to stand up for the marginalized (including herself, since women aren’t privileged in this time setting). She fights for what she believes in and stays true to her morals.
- Julian Magnus is a complete, charismatic flirt. He is the definition of a player. Despite this projection, he can be sweet, real, or menacing when the situation calls for it.
- George Blackwood has more ties to Nettie than he first realizes. Among them being that he was the benefactor for her school and the Earl of Sorrow-Fell, her hometown. He is cross with her, but her conviction may soften and change him over time.
- Jenkins Hargrove is a magician. Nettie’s meetings with him would be severely frowned upon, punished, if the Order ever found out. Nettie connects with the “trickster” and his children. Be warned, he is much more than he seems.
- Master Cornelius Agrippa appears as Nettie’s savior and father-figure. He takes her into his home to teach her sorcery. Having lost his own daughter, Nettie comes to act as her replacement. He is kind and patient, even letting her bring her best friend, Rook.
- Finally, Rook is Nettie’s main companion. She sees past his horrible scar and pays attention to the man underneath (a man that cares for her more than she understands. Poor Rook, being in the friendzone is hard.). Living new lives, in new places, they both begin to transform. They both drift apart and reconnect in their new world, together.
- Other characters interact and alter the course of these main focus personalities. (There is little diversity.)
Coming back to Rooks scars, I want to talk about the Ancients and Familiars. Set in Victorian England, Cluess interchanges the real world with her fantasy one. It’s almost a post-apocalyptic version of London. Here, religion and politics mix with magic. I mean this in the sense that the Order and the Queen are fighting a war against “demons” or Ancients. I also mean in the fashion that Cluess’ characters talk about the Ancients by using words such as campaign. She paints them are dangerous and vile, but also weakens their frightening nature by making them sound like human politicians. I wish there had been more about the Familiars: humans and magic/element wielder alike fallen to the darkness. Promised order and freedom by becoming the lackeys for the Ancients.
The magic wasn’t as pronounced or spectacular as I’d hoped it’d be. It’s not like Harry Potter where there are spell and enchantments. The sorcerer and magicians just…do magic. The skills presented aren’t very fabulous, and the way they are described makes them seem like ordinary/usual performances; this makes the magic less magical/special. Although, I must concede that the idea of staves is very cool, even though they are limiting. Every sorcerer has a staff that is connected and bonded to their magic. If the staff breaks, the sorcerer dies. Howel, being a magician, shouldn’t be able to handle a staff. But she can. No, Nettie isn’t the chosen one, but she sure is an emotional conundrum.
Lastly, the romance. I was quite confused where love was going in the book. Magnus is flirty, but doesn’t commit himself to Nettie. Rooks is friendzoned. Blackwood doesn’t like Nettie in the beginning, but develops a healthy respect for her. There is no pronounced love interest(s). There is semi-pronounced friendships, especially with Blackwood’s sister, but there isn’t enough to rule out romance or create an explicit bond of any kind.
Overall, the book was decent. The banter and wit was fabulous. The pacing could have been better spread out. In general, it all seemed too packed together, with new ideas being shoved into the pages. I personally love the cover. And sure, I guess I would recommend this book.
For some reason, this book reminds me of Burning Glass by Kathryn Purdie (review). So if you like one, maybe try the other.
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