A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1)
By Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House
ISBN13: 9780553535914
Pages: 416
Genre: Fantasy/YA

I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she is brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city–and the one she loves?


I feel that this is going to be more of a rant than a review. I often try desperately to avoid posting reviews full of never-ending negative remarks without including the positive, but it will be hard to avoid with A Shadow Bright and Burning. I will admit, I feel that I was the wrong audience for this book. I am hoping others may find appreciation for elements that I was not able to fully grasp the value of.

Henrietta Howel is a teacher who shares a cruel and miserable existence with her lifelong friend Rook under the thumb of a very harsh headmaster. She has also been living with a secret. She possess the ability to set herself on fire and produce flames. However, sorcery among women is viewed as witchcraft and strictly forbidden. It is punishable by death. So she bears this hidden ability alone with Rook who happens to be marked (scarred) after an encounter with an Ancients.

What are the Ancients? Basically a race of demons, 7 in total, that have been unleashed upon the Earth after a witch (hence the whole females cannot be sorcerers deal) and a magician opened a portal that they should not have. Yeah, someone made a boo boo so now magicians and females with magical abilities are forever shunned and threatened. But life changes for Henrietta when she is discovered by a powerful sorcerer Agrippa, who believes she is actually a prophesied female sorceress who will help rid the world of the Ancients. Queue the part where she is whisked away to an exciting new place and training begins. But is she truly the girl from the prophecy?

I have to be honest with you, I was okay with this book for about the first 25%. Snazzy cover and somewhat intriguing concept, albeit not entirely original. The writing was fluid and I was curious. That is as far as I made it before it became an uphill battle. If you have read this story and really enjoyed it or are very excited to read this, you may want to skip the remainder of this review. As much as I have tried, it is not full of grand promises. It is my somewhat harsh, but honest opinion.

Henriette was fairly likeable in the beginning. Humble and modest, at times unsure of herself. This is okay. I can appreciate a character with flaws. I think we have all come to do so. Unfortunately, she continued down this path of what I can only describe as the most generic and overused, cookie-cutter of heroines. I lost all interest and desire to follow her in this journey within the first 100 pages. The supporting characters had a familiar feel, but not in that comforting sense. More in the “if I see you at the store, I walk the other way before you see me because I have no desire to engage you” sense. See where this is going?  It just was not working for me. Each interaction felt more like a bad episode of teenage drama, than sorcerers who were preparing to actually accomplish and train for something of great significance. Matters of importance were made to feel trivial.

The plot might have survived if it had ever fully blossomed into something of variation. But as fates would have it, it was strictly run of the mill. A female is chosen. She faces the battle of proving herself and in the process uncovers her own secret past. She is now ready to accept the task before her. She is a badass. This formula has been tried too many times, and I believe that this is exactly why I am moving away from YA. I feel as though sometimes, authors discover a niche that works and they  glom onto it. You know the old saying, “If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.” Sometimes though, we need to branch out and “break” things a little. But alas, no major twists and an expected ending left me regretting my decision to force myself to complete this one.

The world build was nothing of note for me. Everything takes place within the Victorian era which was originally promising, but ultimately so underutilized that I was left to want for far too much. Even the magic system was overly simplified and standard. In fact, I found myself sadly disappointed in the staves. Staves are meant to be cool. Ask Gandalf! There was a widely missed opportunity in relation to the 7 Ancients. Where is the lore!? This is fantasy.. sigh. But maybe I am being unfair because this is YA fantasy?

The writing was okay. I would love to state that this was a redeeming quality, but it wasn’t something that jumped out at me. I feel that it was probably appropriate for a younger audience, and maybe that is where this title will shine. But for myself, the action scenes fell flat and the pace never managed to pick up or quicken. Had I read this book in my teens, it just might have pulled it off. As for this time, it is a reminder of why I am trying to move away from YA titles.

*I received this book from Blogging for Books. This review is my own honest and unbiased opinion.

⭐ ⭐


JESSICA CLUESS is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories. Visit her at jessicacluess.com and follow her on Twitter at @JessCluess.

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54 thoughts on “A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

  1. Love me some good and honest reviews! But I admit that the sound of “teenage drama” throws me off as well. Probably one of the biggest reasons why I steer away from a lot of YA novels (I make some rare exceptions though!). Well done in stating that this could definitely entertain a younger audience. Fair and honest. Great review! 🙂

    – Lashaan

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you! I was hesitatbt3about posting this. It felt abrasive, but it was the truth. I felt I owed that much after forcing myself to complete it. The cover was gorgeous though. So there is that 😂. I am definitely pulling further and further from YA for the same reasons.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You know i felt the same way about this one. Not going to lie every once in a while I need a break from YA and go back to it. However this one was very cookie cutter, for a young person coming into YA this would be a great book. As someone who has read YA awhile we need fresh ideas ;0) I think this was a great review, well done.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Uh.. I can see how your points are valid… For some reason I never felt compelled enough to even try this book even though I’ve seen it making rounds.. must be a 6th sense or something .. heheh… but I agree with Inge as well- your fantasy, and mine, should be the 4 pepper variety 😉 😀

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve seen the book’s cover all around WordPress. Seeing how trending things are received is a thing I enjoy. Ender’s Game, for example. People went nuts over it yet I was not charmed at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I actually enjoued Ender’s Game, but it did not resinate with me until after several days ofnhaving finished it. But I agree, it was not the stellar, standout title I was expecting from the hype. Definitely interesting to compare thoughts on such titles and see opposing reviews 😊

          Liked by 1 person

  4. I saw the sequel on a couple of Waiting On Wednesdays yesterday and I was trying to figure out what I knew about the first book, so I went on Goodreads and realized that I had written this book off because so many of my go-to bloggers didn’t like it much. And that was one very long sentence. Ha! Thanks for sharting your review. 😁

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Man, you totally hit the nail on the head with this review. I read a lot of YA myself, but I find myself steering clear (almost 100%) of Paranormal YA, and I’m extremely picky with Fantasy YA. It seems like, to me, those are the worst when it comes to regurgitated ideas. I feel like almost all YA Fantasy being written now follows this exact same outline. Girl has hidden power, girl with hidden power is found. Girl is ‘the one’ to break all curses, or kill all bads.. blah blah blah. (Similar to the boy assassin trope.) I can’t quite give up on YA Fantasy, since I have found some of my favorite books in the genre, but my first instinct when I read a YA Fantasy synopsis is to be cynical.

    I actually got an ARC of this and in the end opted not to read it, because I just knew I wouldn’t like it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am so glad you can relate and this review doesn’t come across as just abrasive bashing. There truly is this formula that is being recycled. Maybe it isn’t even intentional, but it becomes very apparent. I think I am done aside from a possible few titles I have already here. I just need more complex reads with variety. But that is not to say that YA cannot be unique or complex. I have stumbled upon a few. Thank you so much for understanding 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I second that, it is a pretty snazzy cover!

    I think it’s a shame when the same plot or themes are recycled time and time again. Sure, they say no idea is truly original but what you’ve described is one of the reasons I don’t read YA fiction very often. It’s the same with a lot of paranormal romance books I’ve read too sadly. Female character is ‘chosen’, finds out she has some sort of hidden power and faces an ultimate test etc.

    And don’t worry about ‘ranting’. I think this is a good review. You’ve given your honest opinion and have backed up your criticisms with good reasoning. That’s what reviewing is all about 🙂 Thank you for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Jazz ❤ always hard to write the less than stellar reviews. I never want to attack an author’s hard work. I have so mich respect for all that goes into a book. But sometimes there is zero connection and it is what it is. I think maybe this would find a suitable home among very young YA 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Love your honesty in this review! I’ve seen this book around and while it wasn’t exactly on my TBR, the only reason it ever really caught my attention was because the cover looks pretty, hah. Now that I know the story is pretty standard and the characters seem stale, I don’t think I’ll be reaching for it. The YA spectrum can create such difficulty – some books I wouldn’t hand to anyone over eighteen, and others I wouldn’t recommend to anyone *below* eighteen. It’s so hard to tell before reading them, sometimes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Isn’t though! It seems there is never a truly clear line for YA. I have read them and thought.. no way would I let my 16 read this. Then others feel more appropriate for my 12 year old. The lines are so blurred at times. It makes you question how relaxed we have become as a society in regards to media. Thank you 😊

      Liked by 1 person

  8. It sounds like taken separately, the book had enough elements to make a good story. I like the Victorian era, the blurb sounded promising, as did the cover. I’m sorry to hear this failed its potential 😦

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh well good.. not that being nonpolite is good haha, but I feel less guilty about finding little to no connection here. I also am learning I need to break from YA because it is unfair for the genre to be reviewed by someone who cannot truly appreciate it. Thanks Claire 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Thanks for the honest review… even though I was hoping the book would get better for you! Of course I haven’t read it yet, but I may put it on hold for a while now. It sounds like it is just another cliche fantasy story… “the chosen female who has to prove herself”. Sorry it didn’t live up to the hype for you. If I ever end up reading it, we can discuss our thoughts together 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  10. You know what’s funny? I picked Holding Up The Universe and then saw they had this book and I was so mad at myself for not seeing it before. Now…I’m feeling a little better about it.
    But then again, I’m queen of the tropes. I DO think that some authors feel like they can remake a formula and write a bestseller, and that does piss me off. YA isn’t supposed to be an “easy” genre that is cookie cutter. I hope this stops ASAP bc people are getting fed up with it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are pointing out all of my current reasons for breaking away from the genre with very few exceptions. It is becoming tiresome for me. I am certainly not knocking those who find enjoyment with YA. I definitely have, but I do not do well with tropes haha.


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