A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1)
By Jessica Cluess
Publisher: Random House
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.
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