A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1) by Jessica Cluess (2016)
YA Fiction | Fantasy
“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?”
pooled ink Review:
I’m always up for a good story and after hearing so many of my favorite authors celebrate this debut I knew I had to read it.
This book blends Victorian life with the magic of sorcerers, witches, and magicians. A proper orphan girl descends upon the elite London society, challenging the woman’s place and power in the world. She is not so bold as to question her mentors, but when pushed she sets her foot down and clenches her fists to hide the unacceptable anger blooming there. In short: It takes a lovely rose and sets it on fire without so much as a blink or flutter.
Overall I did enjoy reading this book and my curiosity has me teetering on the edge between wanting to know more and probably not finishing the series. I definitely think it’s a good read for fans of English magic, olden times, a dash of Jane Austen-esque romance, or even for those looking for stories in a similar vein as the Harry Potter series (although not quite on the same level of awesome, sorry).
The protagonist of this exciting series is Henrietta Howel, a girl with the gift for flames and therefore the prophesied one who will swoop in and rescue England. Except that the sorcerers’ magic is coming far from easily to her, in fact it hardly deigns to respond to her at all. A problem to be sure. And so we follow poor Nettie as she tries to protect Rook, meet the Queen’s expectations, fulfill a prophecy, riddle out the Ancients, get along with her peers, and remember to keep her place.
For the most part I liked Miss Howel but sometimes I found myself sighing and shaking my head. She can be quite stubborn and her denial streak nearly drove me nuts, but to be fair it was somewhat understandable given the strong prejudices of that time. It’s just that sometimes I wanted to pull her aside and tell her: you can’t do the magic the way the sorcerers want you to but you need to be their prophesied one, even if only for Rook’s sake. You do know how to perform magic, just not in the way they want you to. Therefore, why not use your unique magic but do all the silly wand movements and dances like the sorcerers taught you? It might be a lie, but rather that then find yourself tossed out and Rook hung, yeah?
If I time traveled, I’m quite sure I would not fit into Victorian society with any amount of grace or ease. Like I said, her stubborn struggle and denial was understandable and made for great tension in the plot but me being, well, me I just wanted her to chuck their silly rules and be brilliant. Take that Blackwood! Haha (:
Rook! Dearest Rook. I really love him but I find myself very concerned about his ultimate outcome in this series. His markings and the shadows it calls is of course full of frightening possibilities. However, I will hold onto hope until the last word is written.
Oh, but on the topic of Rook… I love the close relationship between him and Nettie. They grew up together, they’ve protected each other at every turn, they know each other better than anyone else. But of course situations change, not only are they separated during Howel’s intense training but it leads to them keeping secrets, or rather simply not finding time to share them with each other as they always used to. More than that is the small but definite presence of Lilly’s affection for Rook, as well as the electricity that flows effortlessly between Howel and Magnus. I like them all so I will refrain from forming any final hopes…for now.
Magnus is a fun character though. I like him. A bit of a flirt to be certain, but a fun character to read. I also got the feeling that he knows…something. No idea what, really. And of course I could be making this all up or interpreting something that is not there, but in those last few chapters I just kept getting this feeling that he knows something that has to do with Henrietta. Anyway, just a musing.
Blackwood is cool. I like him. He has a very Mr. Darcy air about him. I like it. In fact as a result of all this chaos these sorcerers have all grown quite close leaving me interested in what roles Rook, Magnus, and Blackwood will ultimately play in connection to Henrietta. But yes, I like Blackwood’s character very much, even if he was a definite prick in the beginning.
Hargrove!!! Another great character. He definitely made me think of Fagin from Oliver Twist. A filthy, unrespectable magician perhaps but he’s full of tricks and tales. I’m always happy to see him pop up on the page.
Well, I’ve taken a load of time talking about characters. I’m sorry if I went on for too long but I feel that they drove the plot more than the circumstances (That’s not a bad thing, it’s a writing choice and it worked quite well for this story).
Um…oh yes! The monsters a.k.a. the Ancients and their Familiars. They’re quite hideous. Blech! I could sort of take them or leave them if I’m honest but their existence as a general concept interests me (as it does Howel; we are both quite surprised how no one seems to really be digging that deep into who/what/how/why they are). R’hlem in particular catches both Howel’s and my intrigue. As I’ve said earlier, this book was an enjoyable read with enough curious questions to leave me wanting more but it wasn’t quite enough to make me commit the sequel to my TBR list (I might just Google for spoilers, but we shall see, I might read the next book if my mood so dictates).
Creative, interesting, whimsical, and action-filled, this has proven to be an interesting addition to the YA magical fantasy shelves. I am definitely ready to see where Miss Howel’s path will lead her.
Purchase here: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Meet Jessica Cluess!
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. When she’s not writing books, she’s an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.