A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica CluessKingdom of Fire #1
Published on September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Henrietta can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she’s shocked when instead of being executed, she’s named the first female sorcerer in hundreds of years and invited to train as one of Her Majesty’s royal sorcerers.
Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the prophesied 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 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, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?
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Have you ever gotten the feeling that a book is going to be amazing just from the synopsis? Hell, from the cover? (I know, I know, judging books by their covers is bad BUT…have you?)
A Shadow Bright and Burning was one of those books for me. I’ve been
obsessed with excited for this book since I heard about it over the summer and the day a copy arrived on my front porch was an autumn Christmas. But the question is…does it live up to the hype?
You’re getting magic and sorcerers and magicians and monsters. A dash of romance, a pinch of adventure, and a bond of friendship that will hold against the tests of time.
Henrietta Howel is believed to be the prophesied female sorcerer that will save everyone but she’s not all that she seems. Much like many a heroine in YA fantasy, she’s stubborn and hell-bent on proving herself. And she has this extraordinary power she can’t control. Howel (as the sorcerers call her) fights for everyone, not just those closest to her, and I think that says a lot about her character. Her base character isn’t entirely uncommon in the genre but I liked Henrietta all the same.
(Also, did anyone else think of Howl from Howl’s Moving Castle when they started calling her Howel, or was that just me?)
She’s thrown in with a group of young men also training as sorcerers, and yes, there’s romance. Kind of. Nothing concrete so plenty of possibilities for the sequel but a triangle emerged. I honestly wasn’t a fan of the romance. It didn’t really add anything for me. On the one hand, there’s Rook, her childhood friend. They’ve formed a bond of friendship deeper than any other in her life. They’re close. I would’ve been content with them remaining friends and not bringing a romantic element in. Magnus is the notorious flirt that starts to care about the girl who’s different. Alone, I liked his character. With Henrietta, I wanted to see more than just a love interest. There’s nothing that sets her up with one or the other so to call it “romance” is a stretch but there’s more with these two than the rest of the characters.
I think something Cluess really excelled at, though, was the idea of friendship. Throughout ASBAB Howel is faced with test after test, but in the end, her friendship with the other sorcerers, with the magician, and with Rook, drive the story.
Now the world-building could use some work. There’s a great foundation but I was lacking in the extra details. Don’t get me wrong, I devoured this book in one sitting, but compared to other books in the genre, ASBAB doesn’t quite live up to the worlds (yet). The characters are the strength here but I hope to see more of the sparks of setting lit here bloom into full-fledged fires in the next book(s).
I loved the idea of the sorcerers, magicians, and witches being three separate groups within the same world! Most books have one, maybe two names for magic users and some claim they’re all the same (just different names), others different. The way Cluess groups them in ASBAB caught my eye and I’m curious about how the three groups came to be in the first place.
(I’m a Magician, by the way.)
As for the writing…well, I told you I couldn’t put it down, right? There’s a simplicity to the style that makes everything move quick. I never felt bogged down even when the story shifted from action to the in-between (y’all know what I’m talking about, that point where the author sets us up for something big).
This book reminded me a lot of The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas which is a favorite of mine. I think A Shadow Bright and Burning holds a lot of promise as the start of a great series that’s going to take the genre by storm. I look forward to the next Kingdom of Fire book. Henrietta Howel has more work to do.