A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
Published by Random House Books for Young Readers
Published on: September 20 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
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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.
I began reading A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING with trepidation. I’d read the preview months prior, and at the time, I’d been greatly impressed, but since then I’d suffered numerous disappointments of the finished-product-not-remotely-living-up-its-promise variety.
And initially, my inner cynic taunted me, pointing out perceived flaws, whispering to get it over with and DNF already . . . Then a hobgoblin unexpectedly appeared, and I told my inner cynic to shut its trap.
From there, the already interesting early Victorian England—this version plagued by seven Ancients that walk and talk and quack like demons—expanded into a spectacular alternate version of our own world with sharp-toothed faerie dressmakers, tricksy, not-to-be-trusted-but-oh-so-charming Magicians, estates gifted by fae royalty, yet still recognizable by the ugly, ugly prejudice.
Henrietta Howel is a witch in a time when witches are burned. An orphan, she now teaches at the charity school where she was raised . . . The charity school currently being visited by a royal sorcerer . . . A royal sorcerer whom Henrietta fears was sent to investigate the rumors of mysterious fires.
Mysterious fires that she herself is responsible for.
But when she meets the man, she is surprised to discover a kindred spirit:
“I find a dash of insolence to be quite enjoyable from time to time.”
Then we discover that Henrietta is not a witch, and Agrippa (the royal sorcerer) not only believes that she is a rare female sorcerer, but also that she is the girl prophesied to take England back from its demonic invaders.
Is Henrietta this so-called Chosen One?
Maybe she is and maybe she isn’t. After reading the last page, I was still undecided. The only thing I knew positively was that whatever the answer, it’s not so simple.
Also not so simple is the answer to the inevitable question: is there a love triangle?
There are two definitive love interests (maybe a third, if you’re a particularly contrary sort, who never goes for the obvious choices), but the way Cluess handles the situation . . . Honestly, neither are good candidates for our girl. And anyway, it’s not one of those angsty, dueling for the lady’s affection scenarios.
Option 1 is a comfortable childhood friend, and option 2 is a flamboyant and hilarious blue blood you don’t take seriously until option 1 starts to look like a Red Shirt, then you don’t take him seriously b/c REASONS, then option 1 looks less and less like a Red Shirt . . . but still you can’t help feeling like no good can come of it . . .
Basically, I felt option 1 is only in the running b/c familiar, and option 2 made me swoon a time or two, but I never gave him my heart. *whispers* I may be the contrary sort I mentioned earlier.
BOTTOM LINE: though Henrietta’s future HEA may at this time be unclear, I didn’t feel jerked around or manipulated like with so many other love
As for other typically YA aspects some of you try to avoid, there were surprisingly few.
I felt the first few chapters were a bit rushed, the circumstances coming together far too serendipitously, but once we got to where we were going, things began to unfold more naturally, and often hilariously.
Beyond that I had a couple of minor issues where Henrietta’s not-so-simple situation and her fear of discovery were referenced a bit more than necessary, and a couple of times she was appallingly self-absorbed: View Spoiler »like when she was newly arrived at Agrippa’s home, and Rook was sent around back b/c “servants don’t use the front door,” and she, potentially the most celebrated discovery in years, comments on how SHE feels alone. *flares nostrils* « Hide Spoiler
But those times are few and far between, and only warrant comment as explanation for my 4.0, not 5.0, star rating.
Overall, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess, the first installment of her KINGDOM ON FIRE YA fantasy series, was a delightful surprise, and I very much enjoyed this fantastical version of early Victorian (NOT steampunk) England. There are hideously beguiling Fae creatures, repulsive demons hellbent on England’s destruction, rapscallion magicians in hiding, and a girl with a gift that terrifies her, who may or may not be her world’s salvation.
Among other things . . .
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