A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING
By Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
Hardcover: 416 pages
Publisher: Random House (September 20, 2016)
Grade Range: 7 and up
Age Range: 12 and up
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.
Uhm, did you say Victorian magical stuff with lots of attractive guys and betrayal (who doesn’t love a good double cross) and DESTINY?
Oh, honey, I am so there. In A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING, young Henrietta—or Nettie—is many possibly kind of sort of the sorcerer who could save the world. She’s kept the secret of her ability to induce fire from within herself for fear of being persecuted as a witch in this Victorian, magically-aware setting. Sexism is alive in well in some parts, but so is enthusiastic feminism. The lines of friendship, romantic relationships, and Nettie figuring out who (and what) she is makes up the meat of the novel.
Whew. It felt good to get all those words out.
Now, babes, let’s get into the characters a bit, because these lovely (and not so lovely) folks make up a good portion of what I like about the book. I tend to lean toward character driven novels, and this book certainly read like one. Nettie and Rook (her childhood best friend) are inseparable. The bond of their relationship is my favorite part of the book, and it’s a critically defining feature of the story. Everything that one of them does, they do with the other’s future and safety and happiness in mind. This is the best kind of friendship. It defies the class system and what is considered appropriate for either gender.
The other characters are, of course, the boys at the school, the teachers of magic, and the higher ups to pull stings to make this magical (literally) place what it is. Our two main magic men are unique. One rather reminds me of Mr. Darcy. But, really, I see that man everywhere. There are so many ships that you could ship I mean goodness. I love it. None of them felt forced, which is awesome because I’ve read some love triangle books lately and nope. You don’t know who the betrayer is, who the love fighter, and who is the lover. Alliances are forged, and favorite characters are made.
Finally, there is the plot itself. Along with the personal plot of self-discovery and all that flows around that, there’s also the much bigger picture. The walls of protection around the chosen circle are failing. It’s up to those with magic to protect those without, but nothing is what it seems. At least not quite.
With the brutal and bloody imagery, amazingly crafted relationships, and dark and beautiful setting, I really honestly don’t have much to complain about. I will say that once I put down the book it was harder to get back into it. Once you stop the flow, it’s really stopped. Nettie figuring out who she was and what she was really capable of set up the big picture plot.
Questions are definitely left unanswered, but I’m not itching for the next book. I’ll read it when it comes out, but I’m content with waiting.
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