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Kingdom on Fire #1

A Shadow Bright and Burning

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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?

416 pages, Library Binding

First published September 20, 2016

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Jessica Cluess

8 books1,376 followers

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5 stars
3,658 (24%)
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3 stars
3,952 (26%)
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Displaying 1 - 30 of 2,206 reviews
Profile Image for Emily May.
1,943 reviews291k followers
September 28, 2016
“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.

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Profile Image for Hailey (Hailey in Bookland).
602 reviews87.3k followers
October 8, 2017
This started off pretty strong, but then I quickly lost interest and it became just average. This reminded me of a lot of other books, including (but not limited to), Harry Potter, Jane Eyre, Mortal Instruments. It did have an interesting twist on those stories, especially concerning the whole flip on the typical 'chosen one' story. I liked the Victorian setting, but the world building was lacking, the MC made all decisions based on the character of Rook, a character that I felt like I never really got to know so their relationship never stood out to me. The writing was solid. I loved the setting of Victorian England, and the different magic systems colliding. It was good, I just was left wanting more.
Profile Image for Jessica ❁ ➳ Silverbow ➳ ❁ .
1,257 reviews8,676 followers
December 29, 2017
Reviewed by: Rabid Reads

I began reading A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING with trepidation. I'd read the preview months prior, and at the time, I'd been greatly impressed, but since then I'd suffered numerous disappointments of the finished-product-not-remotely-living-up-its-promise variety.

And initially, my inner cynic taunted me, pointing out perceived flaws, whispering to get it over with and DNF already . . . Then a hobgoblin unexpectedly appeared, and I told my inner cynic to shut its trap.

B/c FAE.

From there, the already interesting early Victorian England--this version plagued by seven Ancients that walk and talk and quack like demons--expanded into a spectacular alternate version of our own world with sharp-toothed faerie dressmakers, tricksy, not-to-be-trusted-but-oh-so-charming Magicians, estates gifted by fae royalty, yet still recognizable by the ugly, ugly prejudice.

Henrietta Howel is a witch in a time when witches are burned. An orphan, she now teaches at the charity school where she was raised . . . The charity school currently being visited by a royal sorcerer . . . A royal sorcerer whom Henrietta fears was sent to investigate the rumors of mysterious fires.

Mysterious fires that she herself is responsible for.

But when she meets the man, she is surprised to discover a kindred spirit:

“I find a dash of insolence to be quite enjoyable from time to time.”

Then we discover that Henrietta is not a witch, and Agrippa (the royal sorcerer) not only believes that she is a rare female sorcerer, but also that she is the girl prophesied to take England back from its demonic invaders.

Is Henrietta this so-called Chosen One?

Maybe she is and maybe she isn't. After reading the last page, I was still undecided. The only thing I knew positively was that whatever the answer, it's not so simple.

Also not so simple is the answer to the inevitable question: is there a love triangle?

There are two definitive love interests (maybe a third, if you're a particularly contrary sort, who never goes for the obvious choices), but the way Cluess handles the situation . . . Honestly, neither are good candidates for our girl. And anyway, it's not one of those angsty, dueling for the lady's affection scenarios.

Option 1 is a comfortable childhood friend, and option 2 is a flamboyant and hilarious blue blood you don't take seriously until option 1 starts to look like a Red Shirt, then you don't take him seriously b/c REASONS, then option 1 looks less and less like a Red Shirt . . . but still you can't help feeling like no good can come of it . . .

Basically, I felt option 1 is only in the running b/c familiar, and option 2 made me swoon a time or two, but I never gave him my heart. *whispers* I may be the contrary sort I mentioned earlier.

BOTTOM LINE: though Henrietta's future HEA may at this time be unclear, I didn't feel jerked around or manipulated like with so many other love quadrilles triangles.

As for other typically YA aspects some of you try to avoid, there were surprisingly few.

I felt the first few chapters were a bit rushed, the circumstances coming together far too serendipitously, but once we got to where we were going, things began to unfold more naturally, and often hilariously.

Beyond that I had a couple of minor issues where Henrietta's not-so-simple situation and her fear of discovery were referenced a bit more than necessary, and a couple of times she was appallingly self-absorbed:

But those times are few and far between, and only warrant comment as explanation for my 4.0, not 5.0, star rating.

Overall, A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess, the first installment of her KINGDOM ON FIRE YA fantasy series, was a delightful surprise, and I very much enjoyed this fantastical version of early Victorian (NOT steampunk) England. There are hideously beguiling Fae creatures, repulsive demons hellbent on England's destruction, rapscallion magicians in hiding, and a girl with a gift that terrifies her, who may or may not be her world's salvation.

Among other things . . .

Highly recommended.

Jessica Signature
Profile Image for Rachel E. Carter.
Author 9 books3,475 followers
January 27, 2023
How do I describe this book without breaking out into rabid fangirl status? UMMMM, how about THE INFERNAL DEVICES + THE BURNING SKY + PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (as in, Mr. Darcy). Yup, I went there. It's a Victorian England fantasy, and it was SOOOOO good.


Now, I'll be honest. Usually I don't like Victorian settings for my reads, something about society being too proper and women being too demure and I just get bored. Take Clockwork Angel -while I *love* certain aspects of that series, there were parts that just dragged because of the time era and diction. In ASBAB? It never dragged. There were never any slow parts or mindless era-dropping paragraphs setting a scene with Victorian imagery/routine/etc. Every chapter felt important and no character too polite. It was still the Victorian era but it just felt modern and refreshing.

The cast of characters was brilliant. No one can convince me that George Blackwell is not secretly a Mr. Darcy in disguise. His first condescending words describing Henrietta! Their argument at the dinner table over high vs lowborns! Their mutual (at first) animosity! His grudging respect of her as the book goes on! Rook was more of a side-character -so while I felt pity, I recognize him more as what he will become but Magnus was wonderfully charming (although he certainly had his faults). And I grew to love Agrippa as the father Henrietta never had, and even the magician (forgot his fake name) who reminded me very strongly of Haymitch (not just the drinking, but also the desire to be good and still drive a bargain, not particularly cuddly but kind).

The world-building with the different races between magicians, wizards, and witches was kind of awesome. And the Ancients? They totally remind me of the Titans in Greek Mythology, or at least the ones I used to watch on the animated Hercules with some other movie, I don't remember. But I love the concept of being trapped in another world and then released to wreak havoc.

I have a theory who R'hlem really is, I had it about halfway through the book .

5 amazing stars. I can't read to read the next in series!
Profile Image for Nastassja.
423 reviews975 followers
October 15, 2016

Buddy-read with my special girls ( no pun here; they are really special and, though, they don't have magical powers, they'd kick any special snowflake's ass easily) Katerina & Vira. Also, please, go read my friend Mila's review to see a more positive and well-structured point of view on the book.

“How I do what I do, but not how to do what I do? What if what I do has to do with my knowledge of what to do, and doing requires only the knowledge of doing? What would you do then?”
I blinked.
“I believe you hurt my brain.”

I wouldn't say this book had hurt my brain, and there's no particular reason for displaying this quote above, I just liked it. That's it. Why can't I make something special, because I want to? I take an example from the author. Special snowflakes everywhere!

Special snowflake fact one: gosh, why does this book reminded me so much of almost every fantasy book I've ever read or heard of? Two major deja vu: Shadow & Bone and Harry Potter. The book started very similar to the first one, and in the middle turned into the second one. Plus add to the list an Infernal Devices, The Burning Sky and even Angelfall! And it's not the whole list! If only I paid closer attention, I'd find more, but I started skipping pages after 30% and missed some important moments.

Special snowflake fact two: the story in nothing new, though it filled with specialness (which I'll explain later). I wouldn't say the writing was bad - it was pretty decent; the story itself had some curious twists and turns, but somehow all this was annihilated by the heroine's dullness. I didn't feel life behind her voice. And to think about spending the whole book in her head, you'd hope there would be something to hold on to. But no such luck. It felt as if we were told about the world around in a mechanic manner: here we have magicians; they are bad guys. Here we have sorcerers; they are good guys. Here we have a special girl who will save the world. Here we have six guys and two of them will kiss the ground the heroine walks on. Here we have a childhood friend. She didn't have feelings for him before, except a sisterly bond, but now her heart flutters every time she sees him. Gosh, I wish you's just had a orgy, guys. But no, here we have a reputation to uphold.

I need to stop doing such writing or I'll bore myself to sleep. The point is - scattered facts and underdeveloped pieces turned this book into a porridge (pun intended as the heroine's magical stave is called Porridge. The girl named it herself. Wanted to feel special).

Special snowflake fact three: the author turned every potentially interesting character into a sniveling lot, and made the ones who were supposed to be unimportant into special snowflakes I wouldn't mind a change in characters if it was done gradually and properly, not because the author just wanted to move the plot forward at whatever cost.

Special snowflake fact four: Did you read the annotation? Remember those words:

As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she's the true prophesied one.

Maybe it's my fault, because I saw in these words what I wanted to see, and the more disappointed I was. I wanted a girl who was prophesied to be the one and only, but turned out the wrong person, and in order to prove herself she's worth something, she fights evil with ordinary magicians like herself, and on her path she makes mistakes, falls in love, develops friendships and so on. You can create an amazing character-development from such setting. But look what we've got in this book: a girl is prophesied to be the savior. She goes to train her specialness. Everyone strokes her ego - the girl can't go to toilet without anyone mentioning how important and special she is, even bathtubs sing serenades to her. Slowly she turns from pretty to beautiful, smart, brave, delicate, strong, powerful... Then turns out she's not the girl from the prophesy (here I almost exhaled in relief - almost). She's better. She has powers from both sides, and who needs a sorcerer savior when you can have a magician-sorcerer savior. Special offer: two for the cost of one. Even the skeptic ones bow to her now.

“I'm a mix of both races, but I was born a magician. You have to know the truth." My heart pounded as I waited for his reply.

He was silent a moment. Then he said, "We need you. That's what is important. The rest is titles." Gently, he took my hand in his own. It wasn't a romantic gesture; it was deeper than that. We sat side by side, our burdens eased, if not lifted.”

Who cares about fucking titles, when there's such specialness involved! The years-long hatred toward magicians is forgotten, and even her Majesty Queen says the kingdom needs our special snowflake, and lets her decide which title to give herself: A special magician snowflake or a special sorcerer snowflake. Guess what the girl chose? Of course, the prophesy must be about her and if not, she'll make it about her, so we have a new sorcerer snowflake!

I don't know about you, but all this special business is rather dull. Plus, I can predict which major events are going to happen in book two, and I don't even need special powers for it. The story tried to be as dodgy as possible, and every time someone tried to say something important, things happened: someone interrupted, or the one, who was supposed to say the thing, vanished, and so one. But these tricks were more annoying than intriguing, and felt like author's desperate attempt at preserving readers' interest at any cost. I didn't give a damn about any of them. I'll probably read the spoilers, shrug and move on to something more exciting.

Special snowflake verdict: A Shadow Bright and Burning is not a bad book; if you haven's read thousands upon thousands of books about special girls and boys, you'll probably like this one. As for me, I am too jaded and too bored to buy something with words "special" in it. Just give me ordinary and make it unique, and I am yours for fangirling.

Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.7k followers
September 7, 2017
$1.99 Kindle sale, Sept. 7, 2017. The second book in this series will be published later this month.

3.5 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature.

In this Victorian-era fantasy, sixteen year old Henrietta Howel, who is now a teacher at the Brimthorn orphanage in Yorkshire where she has spent the last eleven years, has developed an ability to magically set things on fire. She believes this marks her as a witch or magician, who are imprisoned or put to death in England since a horrific event eleven years earlier, when a magician’s spell misfired and opened a portal in our world from another dimension. Through this portal entered the Seven Ancients, magical demons who have been terrorizing England ever since, killing hundreds of people with the help of their Familiars, humans who have been turned into their evil servants.

While magicians are vilified in British society as a result, sorcerers, on the other hand, are revered ― despite the fact that a sorcerer participated in the spell that released the Ancients. Additionally, the distinction between sorcerers and magicians is a rather fine one, based on certain techniques in their use of magic that have very little apparent practical effect. In any event, Henrietta fearfully hides her magical ability from Agrippa, a visiting sorcerer who has been called in to find the source of several mysterious fires … until she is forced to use her powers to save her close friend Rook, a stable boy, from being carried off by a demon’s Familiars. But when she is found out, rather than being executed or punished she is hailed as the first female sorcerer in ages, the one who, it is prophesied, will save England from the Ancients.

Henrietta is whisked away by Agrippa to study sorcery at his London home along with six handsome (of course) young men. But sorcery just isn’t working for her the way it should, and she fears, for good reason, that she’s not actually the Chosen One, but merely an illegal magician. So Henrietta enters into a dangerous deception, sneaking away from Agrippa’s school to learn magic instead from Hargrove, a London magician living in hiding. She thinks, or at least hopes, that no one will notice that she’s using magicians' techniques rather than sorcerers'.

The promotional description for A Shadow Bright and Burning proclaims that Henrietta “meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, handsome young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her.” Your reaction to this blurb will be a major clue as to whether this book will be your type of a fantasy or not. If you are charmed by the notion of a teenage main character being the sole female in the company of a smorgasbord of cute teenage guys, several of whom are rather interested in her, then I highly recommend this book to you. If the idea caused you to roll your eyes, then you may want to give this book a pass. The plot is as much about Henrietta’s relationships with Blackwood and Magnus, two of the sorcerer students, and with her tortured friend Rook, who has come to London as well, as it is about the larger conflict with the Ancients. Some readers will appreciate the more relationship-oriented aspects of this book, while others are likely to be disappointed.

The characters in A Shadow Bright and Burning tend to be stock characters, though a few show more depth. Some of their names are amusing, if heavy-handed, clues to their nature: The abusive Mr. Colegrind (who runs the aptly named Brimthorn School for Girls), the devious Master Palehook, the wealthy, distant (and distinctly Mr Darcy-like) Blackwood, the brave and dashing Magnus, and so forth.

Jessica Cluess creates an intriguing world in A Shadow Bright and Burning, with Lovecraftian monsters running roughshod over Victorian society, but her writing style here, although smooth, is a little simplistic for older readers. In fairness, this is being marketed for ages 12-18, and there will be many in that age group ―I think it’s safe to say they’ll be primarily girls ― who will think this is a wonderful fantasy. There are a few elements in it that make me hesitate to recommend it to younger readers in that age range, including some nightmarish violence and a passionate make-out session that threatens to wind up in bed. To Cluess’ credit, in the latter scene Henrietta acts as I think a well-brought-up Victorian girl would. As it turns out, her caution is justified, which is a nice change of pace from some of the sexually explicit YA fantasies I’ve read recently.

Henrietta and her friends learn some good life lessons, like accepting oneself and others, developing inner strength, and fighting against class prejudice. The NOT The Chosen One plot twist (which is not a spoiler; it’s revealed in the book blurb) does make Henrietta’s journey a more challenging one, and I’m interested to see how this will play out in this series. While A Shadow Bright and Burning doesn’t end on a cliff-hanger (for which I am devoutly grateful), it is rather open-ended, leaving much of the story to be resolved in the sequels. This isn’t a book for every fantasy fan, but I think it will appeal to many younger readers … as long as they’re not terrified by monsters.

I received an ARC from the publisher, Random House, in exchange for a review. Thank you!
Profile Image for Yusra  ✨.
249 reviews512 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 29, 2018
DNF @ 31%
honestly, I’ve lost all interest and I’ve never been so bored. might pick this back up in the future, might not, who knows at this point. the only bright point was magnus I guess. I tried to read this for 12 days and it’s just not working.

a pal read™

Profile Image for Ben Alderson.
Author 23 books13.1k followers
September 5, 2016
Really good debut from Jessica!

I love the more fantastical take on England. And obvs, anything with witches and soccerours I am going to love!

A burning YA novel that stands for equality, inner strength and embracing your insecurities!
Profile Image for Brittni Kristine.
176 reviews107 followers
January 12, 2021

This book is about an orphaned girl who has the power of fire. In this world, witches are executed, magicians are oppressed, and sorcerers get royal treatment. Our main character, Henrietta, is discovered and taken away to hone her powers and become a member of the queens order of sorcerers, but we find out she may be mislabeled.

This rating was a struggle for me, because this was an easy read and there were parts I did in fact enjoy. You can really tell, however, that this was one of the authors earlier works. I told my partner at one point that I can relate to the way she writes, because it’s how I write. ... but there’s a reason I’m not an author.

She focuses heavily on dialogue, and basically everything else falls to the wayside. Our main character has a childhood best friend who is clearly supposed to be the main romance, and we ✨almost never see him✨. The love interest literally lives next door and somehow the author couldn’t fit him into the book.

There’s also next to no world building or descriptions of the settings. The characters seem blind with the shocking lack of descriptions. Which, again, I understand. As a writer I hate descriptions. But as a reader I can’t forgive the complete lack of them.

Also, I’m still not sure where I land on this, but I don’t think I really vibe with a white author writing a black main character and then having all the characters around her comment on her skin being too dark and how so many colors “don’t flatter her skin tone”. If the story centered around her peers being racist, sure, keep that in. But it didn’t at all. The focus was entirely on her gender, everyone thinking she’d fail because she was a woman. Her race never had anything to do with the storyline, so in the end the comments about her color had no purpose and just made me uncomfortable.

Because it’s such an easy read, I may eventually end up reading the second, but it won’t be anytime soon. If you want to pick up a book by this author, do House of Dragons! It was my favorite read last year, so she clearly does improve in her writing.
Profile Image for sam.
362 reviews522 followers
December 26, 2018
Rating: 3.5/5

It took me soo long to get into this one hence the rating but once I did, I couldn't put it down. The average rating for this one wasn't very high so I was hesitant to pick this one up. But, after I stared at the cover for a good 15 minutes I decided that I wasn't going to leave it on my tbr pile any longer.

Henrietta is a 16 year old that can burst into flame. She isn't afraid to stand up for the people who don't know how and believes men and woman should be equally represented in the society. I completely agree. I probably already mentioned this before but the cover is gorgeous.

This book didn't really have a complex plot but it was still entertaining to read. George Blackwood is definitely one of my favorite characters and the rest were fine...I didn't really love them as much as I would've liked. Throughout the book we get to know more about Henrietta's past and the history about the war with the Ancients.

As far as recommendations go, this probably wouldn't be my first choices but who knows? You'll most likely love it more than I did!

I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?
Is she? Read A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess to find out!
Profile Image for ☆☽Erica☾☆.
200 reviews674 followers
October 3, 2016
Dnf at 30%

This was utterly unoriginal and boring. An assortment of love interests, bland writing, super special MC, and lack of world building. It's more of the same stuff we all know.

One extra star because I liked how she named her magic wand "porridge."
Profile Image for Stacee.
2,693 reviews701 followers
August 17, 2016
Fantasy and magic are always hit or miss with me, but I was excited about the synopsis and couldn't wait to get it in my hands

I love love loved Henrietta. She's smart and strong and stands up for what's right, even if society thinks it's wrong. I enjoyed being in her head and was rooting for her from the very beginning. There's a good cast of characters here and I'm eager to see how they show up in future books.

There were sections that did drag a bit, but for the most part I was captivated. I loved the world building and all of the magic. The Ancients are super creepy and the fight scenes were some of the best.

I can't wait to see what's next.

**Huge thanks to Random House for giving me a copy at SDCC**
Profile Image for Katerina  Kondrenko.
498 reviews825 followers
October 20, 2016
4.5 out of 10

Ревью в моем блоге/This review on my blog
Living A Thousand Lives
(please use Chrome/Yandex browser or Android/IOS to see the page; otherwise, spoiler-tags I use to make my post compact may not work)

L.M. - Bright Shadow

Genre: historical fantasy, YA
Stuff: magic, creepy beasts, superpowers
Fail: writing style, romance in general
WOW: hot scene with one of LI, a few twists
POV: 1st-person, female
Love-Geometry: hard

“Knowledge is as powerful as fire. The brighter it burns, the more it devours.”

Buddy-read with Vira the Sorcerer and Nastassja the Magician. And now Katerina the Witch would curse and burn and muahaha. Let's go...

This is a story about a very special and still generic Mary Snowflake called Henrietta Howel. She lives during Victorian Era, not far away from London. One already dead bitch unleashed seven deadly creatures upon the world, but they decided to focus on England. Because of reasons. We have a house full of boys who'd become commended by the Queen and go to war. MC will live in this house. We also have Rook who's a childhood friend of our dear Howel, he's Unclean aka has a few scars those are hidden under his clothes but somehow disgust people. Except Henrietta, of course. She's a saint and will take him with her to the house of Master Agrippa who already trains six boys (With funny names, we have Clarence Lambe and Isaac Wolff. Where am I? In The Government Inspector or Dead Souls by Gogol?), but can't resist to shape a chosen one too. Yeah, MC is a chosen one who isn't chosen one, but still is a chosen one. In fact, she's even better. Try not to die from adoration. Still shocked and don't know how I managed.

Okay, let's start with the writing which is rather boring. I mean, there are interesting moments, but it's action which makes it shine, not the wording itself. You know that you found a good book when even walls' description is spellbinding and meaningful. A Shadow Bright and Burning isn't the case. That's why I was bored between dynamic scenes and felt nothing toward the story and its heroes.

World-building isn't complete: we know about London and magic structure, but we know nothing about the rest of the world and even the rest of England. I liked how the author separate magicians, witches and sorcerers, minding nature of their powers. But I disliked staves stuff. When I see 'stave' I imagine:

Why not canes? Or anything else, huh? Plus it's so Harry Potter-ish. Speaking of which, I need to warn you this book is a mix of stories you've already read. Remember Red Queen? Here is the same grab bag. A Shadow Bright and Burning starts with Shadow and Bone vibes, super strong ones! Then you'll see Infernal Devices, Angelfall, Potter, The Burning Sky and all. And I speak not of inspiration, but of exact scenes. For example, MC speaks with a red-haired boy about her stave, he asks how she'd name it and she answers with the first thought that did cross her mind: Porridge, and he reacts as a hero from Angelfall with almost the same joke. Hello, next Pooky Bear. That's how similar things are.

The plot has some interesting turns, but in general is rather cliched:

— Wow I have a power.
— Let's train me ASAP.
— Oops, something is wrong.
— New fashion of training.
— Yay, I'm the best.
— Oh no, people are mean to me.
— I'm angry and ready to strike.
— People see how amazing I am.

And don't forget about romance with three love-interests! Yeah, three. But you'll know from the first pages who is end game. I enjoyed Magnus's flirtations, and the scene with Of course, the other sweetheart of MC is Rook who is a bit delusional, passive much and end up as a special creature. Remember Mal from Shadow and Bone? Mal was better. The last suitor of Howel is Blacky. Brooding and lonely and titled. The Earl of Sorrow-Fell (if I remember right). He was Nice trope, but Blacky is boring.

Funny thing is, MC's was average at the start of the novel, but in a while became the most beautiful chick of London (the world?) and everyone got under her spell. Even old men. One of them considered her his daughter. The other - his jeweled apprentice. The third is And Queen is in awe too. Henrietta is LIFE! Me rolling my eyes.

Until the ending came, I was sure about giving the book 3 out of 5 stars, 'cause some twists were nice, but the final part of the story shattered my hopes for the best. It was so far-fetched, I can't even.

All in all, please be ready for really generic read, Mary Snowflake and complex love-geometry with borrowed tricks from other YA books.

PS: Sorry, I wanted to nail it all, but got new project at work which takes a lot of my time =((

Kingdom on Fire (Пылающее королевство):
A Shadow Bright and Burning (Ярко горящая тень) #1/3
— Untitled (Без названия) #2/3
— Untitled (Без названия) #3/3
Profile Image for Rachel  (APCB Reviews).
331 reviews1,191 followers
August 3, 2018
ASBAB is one of those books that I eagerly anticipated from the very first pitch. My excitement grew to a feverish pitch that led up to that final moment, holding a physical ARC in my hands!! I tore through this book; I laughed, I gasped, I frantically messaged Jessica with emojis and thoughts and theories. I couldn't help myself! This book plagued my thoughts and emotions the second I started. At first glance ASBAB plays off of all the normal tropes, but what it really does is turn the tropes on their sides and then punts them across the field for good measure.

Jessica Cluess's debut novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning, will definitely burn brightly and capture the attention of the bookish world. With enchanting displays of magic, complex and untrustworthy characters, terrifying beasts, brooding love interests, and a lovely time period, this book has so much going for it.

England is plagued by Ancients, horrifying beasts that plot to lay waste to all of England and wreak havoc on the people. Jessica created such an intricate web of villains with extensive history and elements to back it up. I really enjoyed learning about these monsters and their eerie ways. Jessica also creates a fascinating magical world, which I loved learning about. There is definitely more to it than what meets the eye.

Our main character Henrietta Howel is a stubborn and determined young lady. I liked her well enough as a main character, but I genuinely felt more emotion towards many of the other characters. There's charming Magnus, brooding Blackwood, loyal Rook, shy and gentle Dee, kindhearted Agrippa, hilarious Hargrove, and more. I love that Jessica doesn't paint any of these characters as all good or all bad. Each character makes tough choices that sometimes surprise both the characters and the readers and definitely alter our perception of them. I feel like it's a great way to build character.

This book hooked me in from the very beginning, and I was so into the story that I flew through it. I did feel that the book slowed a bit in the middle, but I hardly minded at all. Interspersed with action scenes every so often, this book entertained for sure and kept my heart racing. Jessica's writing is addictive and easy to follow. She also naturally blends in her sense of humor, which was a definite plus for this book. What I also love about ASBAB is the twists and turns. Shocking moments abound! The deceptions and betrayal run deeply in the veins of this story, and I wouldn't have it any other way. The setting is also beautiful, and I love the witty manner in which everyone converses. Also this book gives off some slight Pride and Prejudice vibes!

I'll admit that the romance in this book is light and mostly a tease; everything is still up in the air. I see so many ships forming and sinking, and my heart is just confused! I won't say it is a love triangle exactly, everyone's feelings are all tossed about. Either way it's entertaining, and I can't wait to see where Jessica takes it. As great as romance is though, the real winner is the friendship and camaraderie in this book. I love how the Sorcerers that Henrietta trains with stand with and support one another.

Jessica casts so many tendrils and plants so many clues that will grow in the following books. I can't wait for the next installment in this enticing fantasy series, and I'll spend my time alternately pining for the next book and theorizing until I can read it.
Profile Image for Vicky Again.
587 reviews818 followers
Shelved as 'yikes'
May 10, 2020
since the author said "no teens are on Goodreads" I felt the need to actually write a review for this book, instead of just leaving it at 1 star

this book...was not fun. to be honest, the magic was cliché, the story was boring, and I wanted to take a nap rather than keep reading.

it's a MIRACLE that I didn't DNF this. only through sheer willpower did I continue, and wow do I regret it.

there are just...so many better books out there. please, don't waste your time on this. if you need recommendations, just say the word and I'll have some amazing fantasy recs in your hands.

I've read this story dozens of times, just with different names and settings, and I'm Tired.

ALSO I can't believe I paid for the second book (at a used bookstore, though) and now I feel a strong urge to toss it in my "heading off to college, need to purge" donate pile.

so, tl;dr I did not enjoy this and would not recommend. was not worth the time I spent reading, why am I so stubborn that I skimmed to the end
Profile Image for Rebekah.
739 reviews955 followers
June 3, 2022
REREAD: 2022 4/5 Stars
I read this book in one sitting, no joke. one sitting! WHY DID IT TAKE ME SO LONG TO PICK UP THIS BOOK! I LOVED IT!

First off, I love the setting of this book. I love the era. I love the dresses the balls, societies decorum, the maids, the manners, the curtesy. So overall I enjoyed the world building. This is set in England...if magic existed back then...

This story is about a girl who thought herself to be a witch, witches are hunted and executed due to something one did long ago that has recked havoc on England. The Ancients have entered our realm and the humans are in a constant war to keep them back. They are evil and there are so many of them. Each Ancient is unique and grotesque, each so different from the next but are taking and destroying lives. So this girl named Henrietta has kept her powers hidden, but when a sorcerer sees her light herself up on fire without being singed to save her childhood friend Rook, the sorcerer thinks she is the prophesied one. Henrietta can control fire and all the other elements that would make her a sorcerer.

Henrietta leaves to become a sorcerer and takes Rook with her to keep him safe as he is Unclean due to an Ancient attack when he was a boy that left him terribly scarred.

When she arrives in London she meets other boys who are also training to be sorcerers and she has to try and make herself fit in.
I LOVE that Henrietta is her own. She's smart and strong and stands up for what's right, even if society thinks it's wrong. I enjoyed being in her head and was rooting for her from the very beginning. She's a wonderful strong female character and I liked her throughout the whole book.

I absolutely loved the boys at school, each it's own character that plays a part in the story. I loved each of their voices and what-not.

There is so much to this story that I'm sorry I didn't pick this book up sooner! I can't wait for book two and can't wait to read more about each of these characters.

I was pleased at the twist and turns of the story I totally didn't see coming, I so appreciate the romance, it is so complicated that I'm so unsure of where it's going to go with whom and how it's all going to unfold. I loved that the romance did NOT overwhelm the story and take away from the overall plot

Overall I couldn't put it down, everything about it was perfect, the pace, the world building, the character development, the imagination, the creepiness of the Ancients and their history and story I loved it, I loved it all!

Sexual Content: mild
Language: mild
Violence: moderate
Drugs/Alcohol: mild

*A HUGE Thank you to Random House/Blogging for Books for this book, which I got in exchange for an honest review*
Profile Image for Allison.
489 reviews186 followers
June 28, 2016
What is it with all these historical fantasy novels trying to ruin my life over the past year??????

Henrietta is amazing, ballsy, clever, and imperfect. She's pretty much a VICTORIAN LADY HUMAN TORCH. And wait til you see the adorable name she gives her stave (like a Harry Potter wand, but much cooler and really cute in a weird mostly inanimate magical object way). She wears pretty dresses, battles otherworldly demons, and isn't afraid to put a man firmly in his place. Or several men. Which leads me to the fact that there are a ****ton of menfolk. Forget love triangles. It's not that. I hope people don't say that (even though there's nothing wrong with a well-done love triangle, lbr). It's not even a quadrangle. IT'S JUST SO WELL-DONE. THERE'S FRIENDSHIP W MENFOLK AND BROODY MENFOLK AND ANNOYINGLY CHEEKY MENFOLK AND MENFOLK WITH DARK TERRIBLE DEMON-Y POWERS AND MENFOLK I SHIPPED WITH EACH OTHER. There's set-up for future shenanigans and goodness and THERE'S ONE ULTIMATE SHIP but I can possibly forgive you if you don't agree with me. There are too many men and it's pretty much totally ok for once.

I'm a sucker for historical fantasy of any kind, but sometimes the world-building is a little lazy and/or haphazard. (I love the Lovegrove books but I always felt there was too much magical folk **** going on. Like yes, we get it, this isn't a Care of Magical Creatures course curriculum.) The ANCIENTS ARE....I want fanart. I'm untalented at anything besides yelling so someone else can do it, but I'd love if we got some quality artwork of them. Or maybe it's better to just kinda let your brain do its worst. I mean, one of them is a skinless man. And he isn't even the worst. Bruh. If I have one qualm it's the inclusion of the Fae? But I feel like that will be a bigger deal later? Or have something to do with the Ancients? Or maybe I missed something in the novel and I'm an idiot.

There's tons of action and twists. There are quite a few "OH ****" moments. The dialogue between characters is witty and clever and a few times *clutches chest*.

Basically...get this book. I mean also Tamora Pierce gave it a blurb so why are you even reading MY review.

Profile Image for ambsreads.
656 reviews1,402 followers
May 13, 2017
my favourite person in the world
the one who can read like 10 books at a time
and the one who shares a name with my ex-boyfriend

DNF @ 25%

I'm sorry guys. I can't. This could single handily be one of the worst books I've read this year. I was rolling my eyes at every paragraph and honestly wishing someone would punch every single character.

Caitlin also supported this DNF so I love Caitlin.

So, to continue my lazy review format, here's some points;
- oh the tropes
- so many tropes
- where's the girl power???
- why is this such a male orientated world??
- also what was the setting
- it was like victorian london?
- it was weird and didn't work tbh
- she literally blushed at seeing a guys elbow
- S C A N D E L O U S
- I literally hated the main character
- she's the cliche "i'm not pretty but every boy finds me pretty"
- there's a character named after a guy i'm crushing on so like that's the only thing i liked????
- I really just wanted to punch everyone
- I N F O D U M P
- It was at the info dumb i was done, so done
- she also named her magical weapon porridge?
- i wish i was kidding
- literally porridge
- yeah, I don't really remember anything else do this story just that i really didn't want to read it today
- like to the point i drank 4 cups of tea to avoid it
- if someone would like to donate their physical copy of this book so i can burn it, i would kiss your feet
- thank you

So, to summarise. This book and I will never be friends. I hated everything to the point I read. Caitlin says it doesn't get better either, which just fills me with the utmost confidence in my DNF.
Profile Image for Cindy ✩☽♔.
975 reviews775 followers
September 18, 2017
"I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer in ages. The girl who can control flames. The one who will defeat the ancients. The prophesied one. Or am I?"

A highly addicting, victorian fantasy. This book has all the classic elements one has come to expect from magic, fantasy books but is also sprinkled with delightful surprises.

I loving all the books I am reading lately about strong, independent woman thinking outside the box and being far ahead of their time. And I love seeing confident, intelligent young men realizing that a woman has no issues being any mans equal.

Henrietta is a kind, smart, curious, beautiful and powerful young woman. Pulled from her rather difficult, but otherwise uncomplicated life, she is thus into a world of magical power, politics, secrets and deception. However, she does not give in to the pressures around her despite how easy it would be. Because beyond just protecting herself and her childhood friend, she truly does want to help people.

"I am not interested in what is pleasant. I'm interested in what's useful."

Magnus: A handsome, charming, confident, strong young man.

Rook: Henrietta’s childhood friend. Loyal, patient, kind, handsome and cursed he is one of the Unclean.

Blackwood: Cold, distant, practical, powerful and undeniably lonely, he is the benefactor behind the school Henrietta and Rook worked at prior to arriving in London.

Note: Henrietta, Howel and Nettie are all the same person. I just use a different name based on her relationship with said individual

Howel & Magnus: From the get-go, these two had a gather easy-going camaraderie. Magnus was Howel’s first friend within the house. As she said, he was the first one to make her feel welcome. They have near instant chemistry as well. And what starts out as a simple flirtation easily becomes something more, putting our heroine’s heart into question.

These had such lighthearted scenes and such lovely chemistry. It was easy to enjoy them together, but then of course they were too good to be true. And shit hit the fan.

Nettie & Rook: Childhood friends, these two have unwavering loyalty to each other. Rook’s feelings for Nettie are undoubtedly clear. What is not clear is how exactly she feels about him. He is important to her, no doubt, but how so? Only time will tell.

Howel & Blackwood: These two got off on the wrong foot basically from the moment they met, given how that usually works in YA, I really thought he would be one of her primary love interests. However, that was not the case, at least not in this book. Instead, we got to see two young people, who were rather wary of each other, grow to understand each other and realize that they have more in common than they could’ve imagined. They became each other’s confidante. With Howel, Blackwood was able to confess a secret that could threaten to destroy his family name. He trusts her, and she makes him feel less alone.

"I didn't know how lonely I was," he said as we bowed, "until I had you on my side."

And Blackwood becomes the first and only person with whom Howel herself reveals her true nature to. As Howel said, what they have is not love. It is something deeper.
"I'm a mix of both races, but I was born a magician. You have to know the truth." My heart pounded as I waited for his reply.

He was silent a moment. Then he said, "We need you. That's what is important. The rest is titles." Gently, he took my hand in his own. It wasn't a romantic gesture; it was deeper than that. We sat side by side, our burdens eased, if not lifted.

And by book's end, he became the one person she knew, without a doubt, that she could count on.

There had been many parties and celebrations lately, what with Korozoth's destruction, but I couldn't enjoy any of them. The Queen was taking more an interest in sorcerer affairs. And I was responsible. People who had claimed to be my allies snubbed me. I often felt alone when I went out in public.

There was one friend, however, I could always rely upon. "Howel, wait," Blackwood called as he came over to me. I smiled to hear my plain surname from his lips at last.

Not going to lie, despite myself, I could not help quietly shipping these two. I know the whole heroine + quiet brooding hero been done before, but I just want this to happen.

 photo 7920988_zpsw6dkjqaw.gif

And honestly, I have a sneaking suspicion that in the long-term it will.

Howel and Magus are like fire, two flames burning hot and quick. But never meant to last long. With Nettie and Rook I see two people who have grown up together, who love and are loyal to each other. It had always been them against the world. But that is not the case anymore. While I do believe Henrietta loves Rook, I am not certain that she is in love with Rook. But with Blackwood, I see a connection. One that may take time and effort to grow and maintain but I do believe there is great potential here.

 photo tumblr_m5h32oA5if1qg9f9k_zpsszykewbt.gif

Henrietta & Agrippa: I really enjoyed their father-daughter-like relationship. Agrippa became quickly became the father Henrietta never had, and Henrietta in some ways filled the void of the daughter Agrippa had lost. It was such a good, sweet relationship and I was quite sad when it ended the way it did.

All-in-all I really liked this book. It was just a fun read. I love tales of magic, war, and redemption. Is it the most original thing? No, but it is an entertaining story; it is worth checking out if you like magic, fantasy, and romance.
Profile Image for Dana.
440 reviews290 followers
January 8, 2018

Wow, I'm breathless. I can't remember the last time I devoured a book with such relish. It was as if the author reached into my brain, picked out everything I love in a book and put it all together in one story, just for me! It's insane, not even does it have all the elements that I love in a book, but it also has the right amount of each. And to think this sat so long on my tbr list because the cover didn't grab me!

If you like any of the following things read this book now!

Ancient mysterious monsters!
Great, well developed friendships and relationships!
Love Triangles! (Not a large part of the book, if that's not your thing)
Quirky Teachers!
Victorian London!
Cute boys!

Buy, Borrow or Bin Verdict: Buy
I can't wait to read the next book immediately!
Check out more of my reviews here
Profile Image for Michael.
177 reviews773 followers
August 3, 2016

This book was like Avatar the last Airbender if it was set in 1700's London AND I DIDNT KNOW HOW MUCH I NEEDED IT.

I can't remember the last time I gasped out loud so many times while reading a book. Honestly though.

The story was action packed and engaging right from the start and somehow managed to keep up the pace throughout the entire book. Cluess built such an interesting world, I was blown away by it all. I have so many unanswered questions and SO much excitement for the rest of this series.

Easily one of my favorites for the year.
Profile Image for Lauren.
516 reviews80 followers
November 25, 2016
I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed this book!! I actually liked Henrietta as a main character and that doesn't happen often with me and female characters. But I loved her from the start.

The world building in this story was phenomenal, such an interesting and in depth world that was absolutely fascinating. There were a couple things that bothered me just in general about the time frame and stuff because it's set in London, but with magicians and sorcerers and witches, so it was unclear about whether or not the queen was THE Queen Victoria or just some random queen happened to be named Queen Victoria.

I loved the characters and felt like there was definitely some character development, and I enjoyed it very much.

Overall it was so close to 5 stars but because there were a few uncertainties leftover by the time I finished, I'd give it a solid 4 1/2 stars.
Profile Image for Suzzie.
906 reviews165 followers
May 20, 2017
Got distracted with my literature review so didn't get to read this book at the pace I wanted. This was a very entertaining book and a great start to the series. I found the characters very enjoyable. Looking forward to see how the story continues and the characters develop.
Profile Image for Alyssa.
1,069 reviews837 followers
September 7, 2016
***Review posted on The Eater of Books! blog***

A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Book One of the Kingdom on Fire series
Publisher: Random House Books for Young Readers
Publication Date: September 20, 2016
Rating: 4 stars
Source: ARC sent by the publisher

Summary (from Goodreads):

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?

Exhilarating and gripping, Jessica Cluess's spellbinding fantasy introduces a powerful, unforgettably heroine, and a world filled with magic, romance, and betrayal. Hand to fans of Libba Bray, Sarah J. Maas, and Cassandra Clare.

What I Liked:

I actually didn't know much about this book before reading it. I'd seen many positive early reviews for the book, and usually hype turns me off. But I decided to give this book a shot anyway, because, well, fantasy. I love fantasy, and YA fantasy tends to be good. I'm pleased to say that I did enjoy this book, and I look forward to reading book two.

Henrietta Howel can set herself on fire. But females with any sort of magical power are executed, typically. When she is discovered one day, she is taken from the school she teaches at, and brought to study and learn her power. There are six young men also in training to be sorcerers. Henrietta is told that she is the chosen one, the girl-child of sorcerer stock. But Henrietta is not the chosen one. She discovers this, but cannot risk the sorcerers finding out. But the war with the Ancients (monsters) is even more dangerous than her secrets.

What an intriguing, engaging story. I had no trouble reading this book, and I practically flew through the 400+ pages. Once I started the book, I was hooked. There are no lag at any point, no spots of boredom. I couldn't read it fast enough, to be honest! The author got the pacing right, perfect for the story.

I really love that Henrietta isn't the "chosen one". I'm kind of sick of prophecies and chosen ones and such, and so it was kind of relief to be told upfront that she wouldn't be the chosen one. It takes a while, until the end of the story, for everyone else to learn of this. But we're still not aware of who the girl in the prophecy actually is. Fascinating!

The story is brilliantly played out. Henrietta goes to Master Agrippa's home, and begins to learn how to control and wield her powers with Agrippa, as well as six boys also in training. Time goes on, and Henrietta is utterly failing at lessons. Why? She finds out, in a rather surprising way, that she isn't what they want her to be. She's not the chosen one. And so she begins to try and hone her power, with the help of an unexpected ally, to try and pass as a sorcerer and get the commendation from the Queen. All the while Ancients are flooding the city and killing people everywhere they go. And Henrietta's friend Rook is suffering at the hands of darkness.

So there are seven important young men in the story. The six sorcerers, Blackwood, Magnus, Dee, Cellini, Wolff, and Lambe, are all very different, yet interesting in their own ways. Blackwood is a brooding, sullen young earl. Magnus is a shameless flirt. Dee is a playful student. Cellini is the foreigner, and Italian. Wolff and Lambe (hehe) are quiet and a little recluse, and tend to stick to themselves. And then there is Rook, Henrietta's friend from the school. She insisted that he come with her to Agrippa's mansion, as the pair do not separate. They've been friends since they were little, and are very close.

I guess it's time for me to talk about the romance... whatever shape the publisher is trying to sell (love triangle, square, heptagon), it's wrong. There is no love triangle in this book. Really, there isn't concrete romance at all. Of the six boys, only two, in my opinion, COULD be love interests. Rook, Magnus, and Blackwood COULD be love interests. Rook, I'm ruling out because of reasons. Magnus, I'm also ruling out, though he is the one that presents the strongest case. Blackwood is the one I hope to be an actual love interest. He has the Darcy archetype going on, and he definitely has the Darcy effect. I really, really like Blackwood. Not that I don't like the others. But as a love interest, I'm all for Blackwood. But then, there was nothing romantic between Blackwood and Henrietta. So me hoping that Blackwood will be a love interest could be wishful thinking. I have a feeling that there will be development with Blackwood though. The seeds were definitely planted in this book, in a subtle manner. *crosses fingers*

So far, no love interest has strongly presented himself. There are a lot of boys, and I personally think one of three of the seven boys COULD be a love interest, but none of them are presenting a strong case to me at the moment. I do have a favorite though.

And in the end, Henrietta doesn't really need a love interest to define her. At the moment, she's doing just fine on her own. I want to see a strong romantic relationship with one of those boys develop (just one, though), but that can happen later in the series. I like that it didn't happen in book one.

No cliffhanger ending in this book, but things definitely aren't resolved. And we know that this is book one of a series. The story ended a little... cliche, in my opinion. I know there are books to follow, but I expected a different ending. It was a good ending, and it fit the story just fine, I just expected something else. I'm excited to see where book two takes us!

What I Did Not Like:

I can't think of anything specific at the moment, though I'm sure there are little things that stuck out to me while I was reading the book. I don't dislike the romance, but I hope to see a stronger and more clear romance in the next books. And more about Henrietta's father, and the chosen one. And the bit about the ivy (read the book and you'll know what I mean). All in good time, I'm sure!

Would I Recommend It:

I do recommend this book - I see why it's so hyped and why so many people have loved it already. I would caution those who are wary of the love triangle (or square or whatever). There is none right now, but I suppose there could be (especially with the sheer number of boys who are in the story -- though, like I said, most of them are not love interests or even potential love interests). Maybe wait until book two publishes to see how the romance goes. Typically by the end of book two, you have a clear idea of exactly where the romance is going. Usually, but not always.

Nevertheless, this IS a great fantasy story.


4 stars. A well-written, enjoyable fantasy debut that is every bit as adventurous and magical as I expected. I am looking forward to reading the next book!
Profile Image for Eilonwy.
814 reviews204 followers
March 31, 2017
Orphaned Henrietta Howel has a gift: the ability to light herself on fire. In an alternate Victorian England where men can be magicians and sorcerers but women shouldn’t be, her gift must be kept hidden. But one day a sorcerer comes to the school where she grew up and now teaches, discovers her ability, and tells her of a prophecy that says a magical girl will save England from the Ancients, seven demons that hold the land and coastal seas under their malevolent power. He takes Henrietta to London to study with the boys he’s training. But is she really the prophesied one … or is she just a fluke and a fraud?
This book starts out feeling a bit bog-standard. Magical orphan? Yeah, been there, done that. Henrietta’s friend Rook, whose scars twinge when the Ancient who caused them is near? Also a bit familiar. A magical Victorian England -- seems like I’ve been there before, too. So at the beginning of the story, I was not that into it, and if I’d been carrying around any other book at the time, I might have DNF’d this one.

But at about the 150-page mark, things took a turn for the different and better, and I was completely hooked. I even nearly missed my subway station one morning because I was so absorbed, and that almost never happens.

So, what did I enjoy so much about this book?

I really like that it seems almost deliberately set up to feel derivative, but then turns some of that on its head.

For instance, Henrietta is placed in a household of hot boys in London, making it seem possible that the book would turn into an obsessive romance/triangle, but that doesn’t happen. Yes, she’s physically attracted to a couple of her classmates, but the attraction and associated feelings are not exactly welcome to her, and highlight what a restrictive society she’s living in rather than going in a romance direction.

I was intrigued by how the status of magic users in this world is not determined by their power, but is a class thing: Sorcerers are all landed gentry, people with long pedigrees, the Top 1% of society, and because of their wealth and status, they get to lord it over magicians, who are hoi polloi. The tensions between the two groups are high, and I’m really looking forward to learning more about this dynamic in the next two volumes.

I really enjoyed the writing. Other reviewers have complained that it’s awful, but while I found it a bit heavy on tell-not-show, I also found it vivid and descriptive, so I was completely immersed in Henrietta’s experiences and reactions. The pacing was great, as there were very few easy places to set this book down after those first 150 pages. New information and reveals were tantalizingly sprinkled through the story, and often perfectly placed so that just as I was starting to grumble, “But what about __________?”, the requisite information or follow-up would appear.

I also appreciated that some of this book does feel like shout-outs to other fantasy books. Sorceress Howel is surely an homage to Wizard Howl! Or at least, I hope so. There’s also a very sexy character called Magnus. The seven Ancients reminded me a little of the Ten Who Were Taken in the Black Company books. I’m sure I’m missing some other nods of the head.

I also like how perfect the title turns out to be!

I do have a couple weaknesses to grouse about.

First, I would personally have liked this world better if it were just a straightforward fantasy world, rather than being actual Victorian England. I’m not sure how the Ancients fit into our real world, no matter how alternate a universe it is; that just feels muddy to me. I found it jarring when Queen Victoria makes an appearance in the book. It just doesn’t quite fit.

Second, while Henrietta’s fellow-orphan friend Rook is a major character and probably the ultimate love interest, I never felt any real connection between them. I can’t exactly pinpoint what was missing or should have been done better, but it just wasn’t there for me.

Third, it shouldn’t have had to take 150 pages to get me committed to this story.

But overall, this was a solidly enjoyable read for me, and I am actually looking forward to the continuation of this series.

For a really glowing review, let me steer you to Celeste Pewter’s review. She points out some really admirable aspects of the book that I don’t have time to mention.
Profile Image for Fafa's Book Corner.
511 reviews298 followers
May 8, 2017

Mini review:

I have been seeing this book everywhere. I had initially wanted to read it earlier. I lost all interest when I read Lola's review. I decided to give it a go because it was on sale. Unfortunately I didn't enjoy it.

The writing style was terrible. There wasn't any real flow to the sentences so it read badly. I can't say much for the plot as I didn't get that far.

It's up to you whether you want to read this.
Profile Image for Grace A..
370 reviews40 followers
September 18, 2022
I loved the magic system. I enjoyed seeing Henrietta flourish against all odds. A woman in a man’s world, with heavy tides everywhere she turned. Yet, in the end, held her own and ultimately succeeded. She gained allies in unlikely places, and her unwavering devotion to her friends paid off.
I had a great time with this read. Four stars.
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