Friday, March 17, 2017

[Review] A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire #1
Rating: 2 stars

Published: September 20th 2016

Goodreads Synopsis:
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?

A Shadow Bright and Burning takes place in the heart of Victorian England, where magic is free and demons know no bounds. We follow the supposed chosen one, Henrietta Howel, who has been recruited with other sorcerers to test her mettle against those who threaten the British Isles. But, everything and everyone is not as they seem, as Henrietta soon finds out.

"Seven are the Ancients, seven are the days,
Monday for R'hlem, the Skinless Man,
On-Tez on Tuesday, the old Vulture Lady,
Callax is Wednesday, the Child Eater
Zen the Great Serpent crisps Thursday with his breath,
On Friday fear Kozoroth, the Shadow and the Fog,
Never sail on Saturday says Nemneris the Water Spider,
And rain on Sunday brings Molochoron the Pale Destroyer."

This book has a world building style similar to Truthwitch, meaning the scope of the topics and lore of the story is far reaching, but the roots simply do not dig deeply enough. I was bombarded with waves of information without the explanation. There are sorcerers, magicians, and witches. There are faeries and Unclean. There are the Ancients, who are the bad guys of the series, but are so faintly touched upon that I only remember what one of them is/looks like. Or two. It's certainly hard to remember.

Even the character building is lacking, as there are so many characters introduced without any substantial backstory or development from them. They're very unremarkable, despite having remarkable powers. What I know about Cellini is that he's from Italy. That's it. This does not help me in the slightest when he suddenly betrays Henrietta. It doesn't make sense - there has to be some buildup at least, no? I can't even call it a plot twist. 

I can't even get started on Magnus... 

Speaking of Magnus, the supposed love triangle? Not really a love triangle. It's so obvious who Henrietta prefers that when the betrayal/plot twist happens, it doesn't make sense. It's so unnecessary to have his character have some development but take it away with all the tension and romance. 

I can't even say I really liked Henrietta much, either. Her character is meant to be practical and level-headed, but she's not level-headed in the slightest. Immaturity and selfishness make her a rather grating character to read. 

"You attacked me. Me, of all people. I brought you into my house. I fed you, looked after you as if you were my own. I treated you like you were my own-" He paused, as if to swallow the unspoken word. "I have never in my life seen such selfish, wretched behavior."
"I'm sorry," I whispered. "I didn't mean to-"
"Now you will go upstairs and stay in your room until I've decided what's to be done. Do you hear me? Set one foot outside before I return, and there'll be devil to pay."
"It was an accident." My throat tightened. "My emotions got the better of me." 

So add this and many other things to the moment where Henrietta's 'friends' (I use the term loosely, there wasn't much interaction with them to begin with) defend her, and you'll get my confusion. 

What I can say that there was never a lack of action, particularly with her stave (read - wand) Porridge. 

I thrust Porridge into the ward but met an invisible force. "Do it, do it," I snarled, jaw clenched tight. I dragged Porridge, looking for any tear. "Open up!" I shouted, teeming with frustration. Porridge sliced into the ward like a knife through a piece of paper. I fell forward and landed on my hands and knees on the other side of the barrier.

All in all, A Shadow Bright and Burning was read more like a precursor for its sequels, with trace knowledge of the lore itself, a dislike for the main character, and a stave named Porridge. This may be one for other fantasy lovers, but it wasn't the book for me. 

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