Friday, September 30, 2016

Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning - Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning
Jessica Cluess
Series:Kingdom on Fire, #1
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Kiersten picked an ARC of this book up for me at BEA and, looking for something to use to help me procrastinate, I realized this had a recent release date -- September 20th, 2016 -- so I thought I'd read and review for those interested!

I didn't know anything about the book before picking it up and reading the back cover, at which point I learned it involved Sorcerers and Magic -- two things I can always get behind -- and a protagonist who was Not the Chosen One (also something I can get behind). The book, in a nutshell, focuses on Henrietta Howel, a girl who can control fire, in a time when female sorcerers essentially Do Not Exist. Her powers are discovered and she is sent to train with London's best.

I had a hard time figuring out how to rate this one. I liked it more than 3.5 stars but less than 3.75 stars?? I'm gonna stick with 3.5.

One of the things I found coolest about this book was how it just took the concept of the Chosen One and turned it on its head. We know from just the back cover that Henrietta isn't the Chosen One and that forces us to ask: Who is she and what role does she play in this narrative? And if she as the protagonist is indispensable in their fight what title does that give her?

In general, I liked the whole ~vibe~ of the book -- fighting monsters in Victorian England using magic; all my favorite things!!!! However, each facet had something bringing it down too, which contributed to my confusion about how to rate it. Let's examine, shall we?

General themes/plot/etc:
I said I liked the vibe and the concept and everything but I feel like it was definitely not as fleshed out as a first book in a series should be. It's told from Henrietta's first person POV as a 16 year-old who's lived her entire life in this world and she kinda just talks about it in passing -- in a way that would be natural for every day life -- and we have to put the pieces together. Obviously Cluess tries to add some dialogue and narration in that serves as explanation but the worldbuilding is definitely lacking. We get a general understanding of what's going on but I definitely hope the second book will provide more insight.

So, I loved all the characters at first glance -- you have the charming, flirty handsome dude, the brooding, mysterious, sullen dude, the stable boy best friend, a charming old man trainer, a terrifying old man trainer, Henrietta herself, etc, and lots more. While reading, they're all fun, and this book is full of dialogue to make you angry or excited or nervous or whatever emotion. Except, when you keep reading, they start to feel a little like Character Tropes. I realized it when Lord Blackwood kept reminding me of Mr. Darcy with his brooding too-good-for-you attitude one minute and then small moments of helpfulness. I'm not saying they're all tropes or stock characters but I think they need a little more dimension. Like, it was super fun to read them in this book but when another one comes out they might seem a little flat if they don't have another layer or two.

I'm not spoiling anything here so I'm not going to say or imply anything, but!!!! I want to make a point to say that I think people in general are using the term "love triangle" too loosely. Like, people are saying "omg!!!!! this book has a Love Triangle!!!!" about every book that just has more than one character that the protagonist can be attracted to. I don't really think that's a love triangle, I think that makes a book fun because I can have a ship and see who gets together at the end, rather than just having two people destined from the start. I think a love triangle is more like when three people are all involved in each other's love stories. Anyway, living with like eight guys, there was bound to be some Choices for Henrietta to make and I thought this was a great part of the book that I can't wait to explore in the next book!

Victorian England:
This is purely subjective and did not really impact my review but I think Jessica Cluess should have utilized Victorian England more in the book. Because I really like it as a concept and a time period.

Anyway, this is getting long so some final thoughts: I don't want my negative comments to deter you from reading -- they were more fleshed out than my positive comments so they probably seemed longer and more intense but I really did like the book. I read through it in one sitting because it was a pretty captivating read. I have no qualms with things that actually happen story-wise and am excited to explore things like magicians and magic and the Ancients even more in the next book -- I feel like a lot of this book was Setting Up for things to come. While I do wish some things were more fleshed out, like characters and worldbuilding, I'm still excited to continue this series and for a book that I went into with zero knowledge and zero expectations I was pleasantly surprised.

- Noor

If you could control an element, what would it be?
Let us know in the comments!

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