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A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire, Book One) Hardcover – September 20, 2016
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From School Library Journal
Gr 7 Up—Sixteen-year-old Henrietta Howel has the power to burst into flames. She believes that she will be executed when she comes forward to defend a friend; instead she is invited to train as one of Her Majesty's royal sorcerers, among whom Henrietta is the only female. The heroine struggles to combat the enchantment of Victorian London, even though her male classmates wish to fight against her. With humanity at risk, Henrietta discovers the secrets of others and her own strength while she tries to defeat the Ancients, terrorizing demons. Readers who enjoy books about magic, fantastical monsters, and forces of good and evil will not be able to put this first installment down. While Cluess's debut novel might be reminiscent of J.K. Rowling's "Harry Potter," it features a protagonist who proves to be more than just a chosen one with a wand. The work has well-developed secondary characters, including Rook, Henrietta's childhood friend, and while the author takes time to introduce readers to the heroine and her new surroundings, she keeps the adventure moving at a good clip. VERDICT Fantasy fans will rejoice and impatiently await the second volume in this new series.—Karen Alexander, Lake Fenton High School, Linden, MI
"Is it clear that Cluess adores the Harry Potter series and Jane Eyre? Yes. So do you. So does everyone. What matters is that her voice is her own. . . . A Shadow Bright and Burning delivers on the promise of its title. This is a novel that gives off light and heat."
—The New York Times
"Henrietta is pragmatic and bitingly funny, and she more than holds her own in a man’s world. Cluess gamely turns the chosen-one trope upside down in this smashing dark fantasy."
—Publishers Weekly, starred review
"Jessica Cluess manages to hook the reader on the very first page. . . . The pages turn quickly and this first installment in the story is over before the reader will want it to be. The ending is perfect, too. Just enough of a conclusion to be satisfying, but also enough mystery to make readers anxious to see the next installment. Lovely debut novel by a talented writer."
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Henrietta Howell is just a teacher in a small Yorkshire town… who also has the ability to burst into flames and control them. One day, when faced with a dangerous situation, she’s forced to reveal her powers (girls are not allowed to be sorcerers), and suddenly finds herself taken off to London to train with Her Majesty’s Sorcerers. They believe she’s the “chosen one”, the one sorcerer destined to end the war between the Ancients and the Crown.
But, is she REALLY “chosen one”? Henrietta isn’t so sure. She struggles with learning how to wield powers properly. When a revelation finally comes to light, Henrietta is forced to keep all sorts of secrets to keep herself — and her friend Rook — safe in their place in London.
Ok, so first off – I absolutely loved Henrietta. She is fierce, driven, and even foolhardy at times. Her devotion to her friend Rook – her childhood friend — is one of the things that drives this book forward. I love how she progresses as a character.
The ensemble of sorcerers in London where Henrietta trains makes for a fun dynamic. Even though Blackwood is a bit of a prick (or is he?), and Magnus is a flirtatious git, there is ample room for ships of all kind! But which one of them will betray her, and which one of them will end up being the one who helps her?
My favourite character in the whole of the book was Hargrave. Who doesn’t love a snarky, self-absorbed magician? Henrietta learns much from him, and you can’t help but love him.
The magical battles were what made this book exciting for me. They are beautifully scripted, and I could see them play out in my minds eye as I read. They are sweepingly epic and entertaining.
I cannot wait to read the second book in this series, A POISON DARK AND DROWNING, to see how Henrietta’s story progresses. If you’re looking for a book akin to Harry Potter, but also kinda like Pride and Prejudice — you need to pick up this book!
Admittedly, anytime I see the words "chosen one" I immediately roll my eyes and say to myself "of course.... I bet they're sixteen too". Spoiler alert: Henrietta is sixteen.
What's awesome about this book is that it actually follows a lead character who ISN'T the chosen one. Now, Henrietta doesn't know that right away so you still get your classic young girl has magical gifts, moves from a horrible life to a lavish world filled with magic and wonder and brooding men blah blah blah but it's honestly well done and I loved every minute of this book!
This book gets a 4 star rating from me mostly because I wasn't totally blown away by the writing. The story and the characters are fantastic, but stylistically I think this writer has room to grow and create a more immersive experience for world building. I also knocked off a few points because I called the "which boy do I choose?" dilemma from the moment I met two of the characters and I got PTSD thinking of Alina, Mal and Nikolai (and the Darkling) all over again.
This story is filled with magic and the classic elements of fantasy that readers love most: prophecies, faeries, impending war, demon monsters, witches, magicians, sorcerers, corsets, a girl who hates being a lady and would rather be one of the boys... oh wait... Henrietta is a character many readers will instantly identify with because she truly has a heart for the underdog and cares about others. Naturally, she carries the weight of the world and she struggles to be the hero they all need and often makes things worse for herself by lying or hiding things rather than just being honest. But hey -- if she did tell people things and ask for help, would she even be a lead fantasy heroine?
I feel like my review seems more critical than it is -- I loved this book. It had Harry Potter meets the Mortal Instrument vibes and those are two of my all time favorite series. This story is like reading Harry Potter from the perspective that everyone thought Neville was the chosen one and was also a lady. If you like either of these series, you'll love this book.
What I appreciate about this book was that it focuses so much on all the ways Henrietta isn't the chosen one, but still shows her as a heroine and someone who sparks change within a demon-controlled London. The girl can literally LIGHT ON FIRE and she still has the mind to be afraid of the unknown before just agreeing to things. So many stories have people all excited to learn they're gifted in some way and they just accept that as truth and jump right into whatever they're told. Characters like that annoy me because it seems so careless to just not have questions about the people coming to claim you as their magical savior. Henrietta is relatable in this way. She doesn't just jump right in and get really excited at the prospect of learning sorcery or fighting demons or learning about magicians. She questions. She argues. She snaps back at people. She ultimately does whatever she wants because she is a boss.
Overall, if you're looking for a fantasy that will give you everything you loved about your favorite fantasy books, this is the book for you. Will this become your new favorite world with brand new ideas? No, probably not. Not everyone can just dream up Hogwarts in a coffee shop. This book will have you interested, questioning, rooting for the underdogs and fearing what will happen next. I'm looking forward to the next one, for sure!
This book has an interesting take on magic and there is a lot of potential in the bigger story which looks like it can develop into quite a complex and adventurous series but the characters really need some work. I can't see me reading more of these books as I like more engagement with the characters and the plot to be a little less obvious. I would recommend it to early-teens but not so much for readers with a broader reading experience.
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