Friday, September 16, 2016

ARC Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning
Series: Kingdom of Fire #1
Written by: Jessica Cluess
Published: September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers
(Amazon / Goodreads)

Synopsis: I am Henrietta Howel.
The first female sorcerer in hundreds of years.
The prophesied one.
Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames.
Forced to reveal her power to save a friend, she's shocked when instead of being executed, she's invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers.

Thrust into the glamour of Victorian London, Henrietta is declared the chosen 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 Howel 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, what does it mean to not be the one? And how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces a powerful, unforgettably heroine, and a world filled with magic, romance, and betrayal. Hand to fans of Libba Bray, Sarah J. Maas, and Cassandra Clare.

*** I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley and at BEA. This fact has not changed my opinion. ***

I read a lot of YA fantasy. An obvious statement to anyone who follows me on Goodreads or reads my blog. It is my kryptonite. YA fantasy second only to historical fiction. What I'm trying to say is that this book had all my favorite things, I should have loved it and yet I did not.

One thing that I did love though is the historical elements. Now I will say, the historical stuff is not the focus. This is an alternative universe so there's not a lot of historical facts you can do. But you can deal with the themes. One of my favorite periods for historical fiction is Victorian England. It's such an interesting period of change and that leads to a lot of really great conflict with books set in the period. The author did a great job analyzing the historic themes of class, race, and gender in a complex and interesting ways.

And a lot of the creative ways it dealt with those themes was through the magic of this book. A Shadow Bright and Burning definitely had an interesting magical system. There were a few different systems at play here, and the author did a good job of explaining the rules and way they were utilized. I liked learning about the magic but I do think it took a lot of the focus of the first half of the book. I'm often overly critical about exposition in first books and I felt like that was the case here. There was a lot of set up here.

The exposition and focus on the magic did kind of get in the way of the plot development for me a little bit. It took a little while to get to the real meat of the plot. Heck, it took a while for me to even realize where the plot was even going. To me it felt like the plot was a little basic and familiar. It felt like a lot of other YA fantasies with the Chosen One trope that I think it may have relied a little too heavily on. I know it wanted to play with that trope but that didn't really come across. At times it felt like it wanted to turn the idea on it's head and at other times it felt like it fell right in with the trope. I would have like to see it own it a little more in either direction and not try to walk the line.

I also would have liked to see a little bit more with the characters of this series. This is a book with a large cast of characters and often it was hard to keep them straight. I would have liked to see a little more development especially with some of the secondary characters. Many of them were interestingly complex but we just didn't get to see them enough. I found the main character of Henrietta interesting enough but I think the Chosen One thoughts I mentioned early got in the way of me liking her more. I did appreciate her hard work and desire to subvert societal expectations I would have just liked to see her own it a little more. The characters who I did like though were the antagonists. Oh man, there were some fascinating monsters here. I want to learn way more about them because they are super dark and fascinating. I think in general with the characters I just wanted more.

There were some really great elements to this book. It's a really wonderful historical fantasy world with a cool magical system but the plot development and characters didn't take it to the next level for me. It suffered a little with First Book Syndrome but I am interested to see where it will go in the rest of the series.

I give A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess 8 out of 10 stars

Buy/Borrow/Bypass: Buy/Borrow. A Shadow Bright and Burning was an interesting read that I would probably recommend to historical fiction fans looking to read more fantasy. But if you're like me and you read a lot of YA fantasy it may not quite blow you away.

Have you read A Shadow Bright and Burning? What did you think? Leave me a comment with your thoughts. Thanks for stopping by and HAPPY READING!


  1. Victorian London AND magic - I'm sold. I can't wait to get my hands on this book. I'm glad the author constructed a unique and interesting magical system.

  2. Man, I have seen SO many mixed reviews for this book and I just don't know. I actually have an ARC of this one too but I'm still not sure I'm even going to read it. :/ I'm not a fan of a lot of exposition and it sounds like the author might have dropped the ball with the characters. I think I'll hold off on this one a bit longer. Great review!

    Tracy @ Cornerfolds

  3. Oh bummer. Sad to hear it wasn't as fascinating as we could've hoped! Though I still plan on trying it as it was one of my whimsy pickups from BEA! LOL! Can't wait to give it a go! Hopefully soonish! Nice review!