A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess – review

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Series: Kingdom on Fire
: September 20th 2016 by Random House BFYR
Genre: fantasy, young adult, romance
Pages: 416p
Source: publisher, in exchange for honest review
Rating: ★★☆☆☆
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?

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This slight twist on the Prophesied Chosen One trope has the most blatant love triangle I’ve seen in an age. My eyes nearly rolled out of my head when they literally fought over her. Henrietta flounders against the sexism present in every single person in this novel which was exhausting. Given that this is a fantastical alternate history with Lovecraftian horrors roaming the country, I could’ve done without the constant barrage of misogynistic remarks.

A lot of my issues stem from Henrietta herself, who felt impossibly flat to me. Does she have hobbies? I just read a four-hundred-page novel told by her and I couldn’t tell you. I know she’s good at maths and can do magic. It felt more like I was meant to project myself on her (this is told in first person) than actually understand her as a character. Magnus, a Love Interest, was quite slimy but at least entertaining. I felt more attachment to Magnus than Henrietta herself.

I’m still struggling to understand how Henrietta spent her life assuming she was a witch (a lesser magic person, beneath magicians who are in turn beneath sorcerers in the magical individual caste system) while being able to do fire magic. According to the book, elemental magic is reserved exclusively for sorcerers. If Henrietta didn’t know that she couldn’t be a witch by this definition alone, how did she know that a sorcerer’s staff can’t break or they will die? (In-text: “[…] every English child knows the rule about staves.” If this is true, shouldn’t every English child also know that only sorcerers can do elemental magic?) And, a few pages later, Henrietta knows what sorcerers call their training areas (obsidian rooms) but somehow didn’t know, again, that only sorcerers can do fire magic, which is her specialty.

The pacing, too, was strange. Most of the book felt like a wander with a quick dash of suspense at the end of each chapter to keep me reading. The last fifty pages were so rushed that I had to read them two times to digest it, and even now I’ve forgotten most of what happened since it was all so sudden. Quite a lot of people died, none of whom I can recall by name.

I wasn’t a huge fan of this. I was originally drawn in by the blurb’s promise of more magic than romance and found myself smack-dab in the middle of a love triangle I could hear screeching on the horizon as soon as Love Interest Two was introduced.

I have to say I’m a little disappointed. A Shadow Bright and Burning really pushes no boundaries at all – maybe twenty years ago, but certainly not now. There was so much potential here and I’m really sad that I didn’t enjoy this as much as I was hoping to. Especially after reading the strong, wild Vasya Petrovna of The Bear and the Nightingale, Henrietta Howel was a sore disappointment.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this novel from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

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One thought on “A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess – review

  1. Pingback: January Wrap-Up 2017 | READS to LIVE

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