Author: Jessica Cluess
Series: Kingdom on Fire, #1
Released: September 20 2016
Publisher: Random House
Length: 407 pages
Source: Publisher for review
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 Henrietta Howel, a powerful, unforgettable heroine, and an entertaining world filled with magic, monsters, and mayhem.
A Shadow Bright and Burning, Jessica Cluess’ debut novel, lures us in with a gorgeous cover, but easily keeps our attention with stupendous worldbuilding and an abundance of witty charm. A trip to Victorian London, enriched by sorcery, ancient monsters and a grumpy hobgoblin, is precisely what I would recommend to all lovers of historical fantasy.
A Shadow starts quite explosively, and the pacing rarely allows us any reprieve. Our Henrietta is in constant danger, always afraid of being discovered and executed. As the only woman among the sorcerers she faces many challenges and constantly fights prejudice. She is attacked not only for her unusual abilities, but for the simple fact of being a woman in an exclusively men’s world.
For her worldbuilding, Cluess drew inspiration from many sides, but managed to assemble something fairly unique and captivating. Her world is truly the lifeblood of this story, outshining everything else, including the characters. Added to that, her ability to write witty, often laugh-out-loud funny dialogues makes it all run smoothly, and provides endless entertainment for us.
The romantic subplot drags the story down a bit, and I suspect this would have been a much better work without it. Henrietta has two romantic interests, her childhood best friend, unsuitable in every way, and a charming young sorcerer who takes few things seriously. Neither of them seems like a good choice for Nettie, and although our hearts want to root for Rook, her childhood friend, there is simply no chemistry between them. I have a feeling things may take an unwanted direction in the future, and I sincerely hope Cluess will realize that her story works better without the melodrama.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is clearly the first in a series, but it ends on a hopeful note, allowing us to wait for the next book calmly, but eagerly. Romance aside, this is a wonderful and imaginative story with plenty to offer to younger and older readers alike.
A copy of this book was kindly provided by the publisher for review purposes. No considerations, monetary or otherwise, have influenced the opinions expressed in this review.