A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess
Random House: September 20, 2016
Genre: Historical Fantasy
Source: Free From Library
The view was nice, but the food was bad.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is a YA historical fantasy novel and while entertaining, I didn’t think that Bright and Burning offered readers anything new. We’ve got some romance and some personal turmoil being the chosen one. Both of which many will recognize if anyone’s pictured up a fantastical YA read at some point in the recent past.
Miss Henrietta Howell is a young lady with a secret. Henrietta can control and create fire, something that she is struggling to conceal. After all there are no lady sorcerers anymore, not since the last one started a war. Naturally, Henrietta is discovered. Instead of punishment, Henrietta is thought to be the chosen one, prophesied to end the war with Ancients. While not everyone is convinced, Henrietta is taken to London to study, learning things about herself, her past, and those closest to her. Bright and Burning has all the elements to make this one a stand-out YA fantasy; however, I couldn’t help but feel bored by this one. The tropes that are employed offer nothing new to the reader, and the attempts to have Henrietta break ground in this historical world fall flat. For example, Henrietta is set up to be a trailblazer: the first female sorcerer in ages. Of course, Henrietta is up against many who do not believe that women should dabble in magic. I loved the concept that Henrietta would be a feminist for her time, but I didn’t feel like the character rose to her potential. At very least, there wasn’t enough time spend on exploring Henrietta’s role within society. Instead, too much time was given to the multiple romances and other interpersonal drama. Normally, I love that kind of drama, but I never felt invested in any of the romances and felt that they detracted from Henrietta’s own personal journey as a sorcerer.
The idea of being “the chosen one” is something that crops up in a lot of fantasy novels. I enjoyed that the author played with this concept a bit in having Henrietta aware very early on that it was likely that she was not the chosen one. The fact that this was done is something that I really enjoyed in the novel. However, I would have liked to have Henrietta’s emotional state about her status as the not chosen one explored more. Instead Henrietta’s internal conflicts were shallow at best. Some depth to her character was attempted with Henrietta’s experiences with her aunt and her belief that she is not lovable, but in my opinion, it was too little, too late. I appreciated that Henrietta was a flawed young woman but she was not a character that had much depth.
And lastly, we have the love triangle (maybe square?). Sigh. Quite frankly Henrietta had enough going on without all this romantic drama. And the relationship that could have been explored my deeply, especially considering the significant other’s rather horrendous actions, wasn’t capitalized on. At one instance, one of Henrietta’s suitors treats her as an object and it reflects the societal norms of the world that the characters live in. Instead of really delving into the issue, it’s glossed over and the character is forgiven for his lapse. That is not cool! There was so much potential for A Shadow Bright and Burning to be a meaty and thoughtful read, instead many things are glossed over in favour of manufactured drama.
A Shadow Bright and Burning is a YA novel that does not offer anything new. There was much potential for this one to be a really good book, yet it was bogged down with superficial characters. While I appreciated the concept of the novel, I was disappointed with the execution. I’m not sure that I’ll be checking in for book two.