Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1)
Genre: YA fantasy/historical fantasy
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham
Listening Time: 12 hours, 49 mins
Goodreads Synopsis: 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.
Plot: The plot of this book was so much fun. Jessica Cluess plays with the “chosen one” trope and made it entertaining and not predictable. You learn about how a sorcerer is trained, the ugly and terrifying Ancient monsters and the bloody history behind fighting them and other prejudices. There was a good amount of training scenes as Henrietta struggled to figure out her magic, and her place in these new surroundings. However, the ending was explosive! The last 10 chapters are fast paced, revealing, a bit emotional and great character arcs. The ending really nailed the high rating for me 🙂
World Building: This an alternate history fantasy; we have the era of Queen Victoria, but with magic and terrifying foreign monsters. The author does an incredible job of not having the typical Regency era tropes that irritate me like no other. The dialogue is easy to understand, fun twists on history and the creative folklore of the Ancients. The seven monsters themselves are all unique to their own abilities and appearances. This school yard chant describes them well:
“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, Zem the Great Serpent crisps Thursday with his breath, On Friday fear Korozoth, the Shadow and Fog, Never sail on Saturday says Nemneris the Water Spider, And rain on Sunday brings Molochoron the Pale Destroyer.” (pg. 13)
While you don’t see and know a lot about all the monsters in this first book, you get some chilling descriptions of their destruction and a vast mystery of their origins and how to defeat them. They truly feel like alien villains, since they’re very hard to kill and don’t offer easy victories for the characters.
I will admit that the magic is a tiny bit weak in this first book. It doesn’t have a ton of depth to it as far as spells or anything. But what I got was a good start to this series. I try not to be extremely picky with more simplistic magic systems 🙂
Characters: Man oh man, do we an amazing protagonist! Henrietta is easily a combination of Jane Eyre and Elizabeth Bennett. She is someone we need more of in books. She comes from grim and lowly circumstances, but never brags about her powers. She’s passionate about protecting herself and her friend Rook. She challenges those who oppose her due to her birthright or gender. She offers many great points to some of the arguments presented to her. But she never boasts, recognizes the good in people and does her best to adjust to her new life in London. To me, she never reads like the cookie cut characters we’re getting these days. She stands for equality in magic, protection and poverty.
But what’s also cool about her is that she’s not a literature person. Rather, she reaches for history, mathematics and science. I loved that difference. Not all women are book people and it was nice to see a different personality. While I don’t tire of seeing bookish characters, variety never hurts.
I also loved Lord Blackwood (Mr. Darcy vibes), Lily (a house maid), Hardgrove (one hilarious guy who offers amazing lines) and the layers of Magnus. While he can appear one sided many times in the book, his character is worth paying attention to and seeing the potential to come in further books.
Narrator: Fiona Hardingham never disappoints with her narrations. Since she’s from the UK, she’s perfect with bringing the language, lifestyle and attitude of that time period. She eases you into the story and gives Henrietta an amazing voice. But if I’m going to nitpick, she doesn’t bring deeper emotion to sad or shocking circumstances. There’s hints of it, but not a complete payoff. But I’ve listened to a few audio books by her now and I still enjoy every performance regardless. If you’re curious about her narration, here’s the 5 minute sample you can listen to via Audible:
Overall: I personally think that many of the negative reviews of this book are harsh. While this isn’t completely groundbreaking or highly original, this was a very solid and fun read. It’s entertaining, offers some creepy monsters, a great main character and tropes that are addressed and rendered useless. Sure, you could point a few things out, but I think that the author almost wanted you to think and figure out what’s going on for yourself. This got me excited to listen to something and I went into it pretty blind as far as the reviews out there. It was entertaining, sometimes sinister and one female character I’ll remember for years. Go check this out!
If you’ve read this, or really want to, let me know down below! The next book is out in September and if you need a new series to start, why not this one?