A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica CluessA Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, Book One) by Jessica Cluess
Published by Random House Children's Books on September 20th 2016
Genres: Fantasy, Young Adult
Pages: 416
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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?

“Now, listen, Miss Howel. I’ve never seen another girl who could do what you’ve done, and I’ve searched for four years. I’ve never met another sorcerer who could burn and walk away unscathed.”

Maybe five or so years ago this book stood a chance. But, come on, there’s not a single thing in A Shadow Bright and Burning that we haven’t all seen before.
Limited world-building and a plethora of potential love interests fuel this derivative Victorian fantasy. It begins with a familiar premise: an orphaned, mistreated girl called Henrietta lives a miserable existence until she is discovered by a sorcerer who claims she is a prophesied chosen one. He whisks her out of the life she has known and takes her to train her powers with other sorcerers.
Almost everything is borrowed from other series. Harry Potter being the obvious example, but there’s some Mortal Instruments/Infernal Devices in there too, as well as others. The magically warded secret area of London called “London Proper” is reminiscent of Diagon Alley, and Rowling’s influence rears its head again when Rook knows dark magic is coming because his scars hurt.
The author could have avoided this by developing her own take on both of these, but everything is skimmed over. Very little is explained. Much of this world remains a mystery to me even after finishing the book. When we do get some background information on the world, its history, and its magic system, it comes in the form of forced, unnatural conversations. The characters are clearly only discussing it for the purpose of educating the reader and it feels so out of place.
There’s hints at attraction with at least three of the male characters. Though the Mary Sue heroine is adamant that she is unattractive and that everyone is DEFINITELY NOT in love with her, evidence abounds to the contrary. Other characters can see that Rook is in love with Henrietta but “Omigosh, no!! They’re just friends!” even though she describes him like this:

Granted, Rook was attractive, with sharp, elegant features and blue eyes. His hair was still the same flaxen down it had been when we were eight. He looked like a poet or a gentleman, I’d always thought, even if he was only a stable boy.

The book just doesn’t do anything new. Even the attempts to put a new spin on the super special “Chosen One” trope result in a spin we’ve seen several times already.
And I simply couldn’t find anything to read for. The book moves through a cycle of Henrietta practicing her magic in repetitive elemental displays, flirting with one of the boys, and doing something dumb. By the latter I mean that she always finds a way to rush into any magical attack, against the orders of the most powerful sorcerers.
I guess if you’re still not over the whole “special chosen girl fights monsters and flirts with boys” thing, then this could work more for you. Me? I’m tired of it.
Also, one last minor thing: every sorcerer gets a stave, which is basically a big magic wand, and their magic is tied to it. Losing it is VERY BAD. However, if you want me to appreciate the seriousness of losing one’s stave, don’t name it Porridge.

“The pain of losing Porridge, the mere idea of it, threatened to crush me.”

Ooh, that’s very sad. But mostly funny.

One Star

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