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Review: A Shadow Bright & Burning by Jessica Cluess

Book cover for Michelle Major "Tell Me Again"

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?


A Shadow Bright and Burning was one of those books that I waited in eager anticipation to read. I was so excited by the idea of a book about someone who is not the chosen one (I also liked the idea of a convoluted love triangle, which I realize normally makes me the odd man out).

And in many ways, this book delivers on that promise. Henrietta is not very good at what she's supposed to be able to do. She struggles--a lot. She messes up--a lot. She's an outsider trying very hard to become an insider, and it isn't easy for her. There are also so many men in this book and you never have any idea of who she's supposed to be with (even when she's telling you who she thinks she wants to be with). Most importantly, she's a woman trying to find her place in a decidedly male world, and this is something that is always at the forefront of the novel.

The villains in this novel are pretty cool. There are all these Ancients (well, 7 of them), these horrible monsters who were basically brought into being during a huge fight between magicians and sorcerers.

However, there's not really enough of anything in this book. Not enough information, not enough steam, not enough danger or violence. It was hard to figure out who was on whose side, and not really in a fun way. The battles were confusing and hard to picture in my head. Also, a lot of it read middle-grade, and the voice seemed confusing to me much of the time. Something exciting or important would seem like it was about to happen, and then something less exciting or important would interrupt it.

I thought the book picked up some steam in the second half, when she was not training as much as taking charge, and I do like some of the murkiness around the characters. Who's good? Who's bad? (Probably everyone.) Will I read the rest in the series? I don't know. I'm not sure that A Shadow Bright and Burning brings a lot of new stuff to the table of young adult fantasy, but the second book could really turn the series on its head. This was Jessica Cluess' first book, so she could really hone her craft and her story and deliver a stunning sequel.

3 Stars

Published by Random House on September 20, 2016

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