Sunday, November 20, 2016

A Shadow Bright and Burning - Jessica Cluess

Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire Book One)
Author: Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House, 2016 (Hardcover)
Length: 404 pages
Genre: Young Adult; Fantasy
Started: November 16 2016
Finished: November 18, 2016

From the inside cover:

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 sorcerers, 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?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess' spellbinding first book in the Kingdom on Fire series introduces a powerful, unforgettable heroine and a world filled with magic, romance, and betrayal.

I have a confession to make: I'm not a massive Harry Potter fan. I enjoy the books, movies and such (I'm going to see Fantastic Beasts this weekend and devoured Cursed Child over the summer), but I'm not a diehard fan like some people I know. I think part of this reason is because Harry is a boy and while I was growing up when the books were just becoming popular, I wanted nothing more than books with female protagonists that I could really identify with (they were in severe short supply at the time). The reason I'm even on this seemingly unrelated tangent is that I think I finally found "my" version of Harry Potter with this book, not to say that the books are in any way identical (they aren't), but that this is a fantasy book about a strong, intelligent girl with magical powers who discovers her origins and tries to figure out how she fits into this new world she's thrust into.

Henrietta lives in a world resembling Victorian England, where the emergence of nightmarish demons (Ancients) terrorizing the country was the work of a Pandora's box type of story surrounding a magician and a witch. As a result, magicians are viewed with suspicion as charlatans and witches are killed outright (stupid Victorian sexism). So Henrietta grows up in a charity school after her parents die, and she has this ability to set herself on fire, which she must keep secret if she wants to live. When her friend Rook is under attack by an Ancient's familiars, she is forced to reveal her power in the presence of a sorcerer to save him. She is identified as the chosen one from the prophecy, the first female sorcerer in centuries and is brought to a shielded area in London to train with other young sorcerers to fight to save England from the Ancients. Except she soon learns that she isn't, and must determine how to survive where she meets adversity everywhere.

Henrietta is feisty, intelligent, and doesn't hesitate to speak her mind, so of course I liked her. Rook doesn't really get a lot of development other than the fact that he loves Nettie, so hopefully he gets some more spotlight in subsequent books. Agrippa is lovely and conflicted, so I quite liked him, as with Blackwood and Magnus. The Victorian setting fits quite well with the world building, which is astoundingly detailed and immense. I have to give the author credit also for creating the Ancients, which are actually horrifying and creepy when described, I like being spooked while reading my stories. I also like how magic in this world has various levels and categories and wasn't just one-dimensional.

Even though this book appears to use all the typical cliched ideas you find in fantasy books, the author turns the "chosen one" narrative on its head and the result is an engrossing, imaginative book that is gripping and fascinating. I'll definitely be impatiently awaiting the subsequent books.

Thoughts on the cover:
Stunning. I love the burning rose (makes sense when you read to the end), and the colour scheme is so beautiful.

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