Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
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 sorcerer trainees, 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?
3.5 Drink Me Potions
To be honest, I’m a little disappointed in how A Shadow Bright and Burning turned out. It was a highlighted book of 2016 for me, but with high expectations come a greater fall when it doesn’t reach them.
Taking the “chosen one” archetype and apparently flipping it on its head, Cluess’ debut novel seemed to have the beautiful elements of magic, monsters and romance, all set in Victorian London. Each and every one of these components are things I absolutely love to find in a book. So how did it turn all so wrong?
Henrietta Howel didn’t expect to be brought to London, discovered as the first female sorcerer since Joan of Arc. I liked her. She didn’t let a house full of boys (with far more training than she ever had) or the old and well-respected sorcerers intimidate her. But with the opportunity for a greater life than she had ever dreamed of, she brought along her best friend Rook, an Unclean. One who has been touched by the Ancients (aka a monster that’s the stuff of nightmares). Her kindness for someone who society would not want to touch made me like her. She stood up for the poor who weren’t protected by the sorcerers’ magic. She gave her own opinion when she didn’t agree with how things were done. She made for a great protagonist.
The issues I did have problems with were the other elements of the story.
The world building wasn’t very extensive. Beyond another tool, called a stave, that seemingly replaced the functions of a wand, and how it could be used with certain body movements to control the elements, it was frankly a little tiring to read about. I found my eyes were glazing over the parts when they were training because it was just a lot of info dumped in a way that wasn’t very exciting. It felt more like info that had to be unloaded rather than organically fitting in with the plot.
This story is also a historical fantasy. Honestly? Besides the fact that Queen Victoria popped up occasionally in the plot, it hardly felt like the time period really mattered. Sure, they were in London, but the historical aspects just weren’t important as it could’ve been modern-day London society. The way they lived, the tools they used, none of that really connected with that time period and it was a let-down. History requires more intensive research, but Cluess just didn’t put the effort to actually encompass it into her story, like how The Dark Days Club did in this same genre.
Likewise, the world building here wasn’t extensive enough. We’re still left with many questions by the end of the book. Like why did the responsible party who unleashed these monsters do it? or where are they from so the sorcerers stop them? . Unfortunately, it seems either these details were meant to be shared later in the series, or were unimportant. The way one of the monsters was dealt with in the climax of the novel felt too rushed and anticlimactic. For a “chosen one” archetype that’s supposed to be different, it sure felt like the cliched version of this formula. It’s like Howel is unstoppable. She may not be THE chosen one, but she’s still more important and powerful than other (and frankly, more well-trained) sorcerers in the Order.
Where do I even BEGIN with this? I had a feeling a love triangle would go down in this book as there are like, almost no female characters and Howel is surrounded by a house of guys. I’m at least happy that one guy becomes more of a brotherly figure to her, so it’s like a love pentagon or whatever. I personally favour one guy over another (of course), but the romance honestly didn’t do much for me. Which is saying a lot.
Both guys have their problems, and both make honest mistakes that I didn’t really appreciate. There is no one who is better for her. And I’m glad that it’s not a story that focuses on this point like it’s more important than EVERYTHING else that’s happening. But at the same time, the romance was almost so subtle that I didn’t feel anything for the guys. She hardly spent any alone time with either so there weren’t many moments that made me melt and think “awww they’re so cute together”. I’d rather she didn’t fall for anyone then and just focus on kicking monster butt.
Maybe I hyped this up a little too much in my mind. I waited a long time to get my hands on this novel and I may have expected way too much. However, it still had its moments, like learning the history of other magical beings beyond sorcerers or the mysterious attention given to Howel by the Ancients.
It may not have been the best book, but it was decent at least.
A Shadow Bright and Burning was a historical fantasy that barely focused on the historical aspect. Set in Victorian London, Henrietta found herself in a heap of lies as she figures she’s not the chosen one after all. With a world that wasn’t altogether explained very well, this novel tried to make itself fun and action-packed, but somehow missed the high bar it set. It had its good moments too, but all the elements I looked most forward to just weren’t put together as well as I had hoped it would. Plus, the romance just wasn’t so great, and that already puts me in a less than happy mood.