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This review was first published at A Backwards Story on September 20, 2013.
There should be more buzz surrounding THE BURNING SKY than there is. It was unputdownable, a book not to be forgotten. It lingers with you when the last page is done, making it impossible to just dive into something new right away. It's blurbed by fantasy authors I love such as Rae Carson, Sarah J. Maas, Marie Lu, and Cinda Williams Chima. It has aspects of beloved series, while still remaining wholly its own entity. When I first heard of the book, it was blurbed as Kristin Cashore meets Cinda Williams Chima, but I drew my own comparisons.The fact that Iolanthe must masquerade as a boy in order to hide out at an all-boys boarding school is reminiscent of Tamora Pierce's fantasy staple Song of the Lioness quartet. Iolanthe has mastered three of the four elements, but struggles with air, which reminds me of Nickelodeon tv series Avatar: The Legend of Korra. J.K. Rowling's beloved Harry Potter series can be seen in the way the magic realm is kept separate from the mortal realm, that Iolanthe and Prince Titus practice magic in a hidden lab or dive into the pages of the Crucible, or even, if you're really looking for it, the way the boys love playing cricket. I was first drawn to the series when I saw an e-ARC comparing the book to Cashore, had a co-worker recommend it to me when she saw the same e-blurb after I'd forgotten about it, then remembered the book a third time at BEA when in line at HarperCollins for an ARC of Amy Tan's THE VALLEY OF AMAZEMENT. Everyone was lined up for THE BURNING SKY, and I was like, "What is this book?" and hopped into the line as soon as I had my Amy Tan. Third time is the charm, though, because only then, looking at the summary and hearing the enthusiasm, did I become genuinely excited about this novel. I wish I'd been excited sooner. It deserves that. The buzz around this book should be bigger than it is, and I feel it may not be because high fantasy doesn't sell as well as other genres. And that's sad, because it's my favorite!
Iolanthe Seabourne is a registered Elemental Mage III, meaning she is able to control three unique elements. What she doesn't know is that she can actually control all four and is a highly sought-after, extremely rare Elemental Mage IV. Her ability to manipulate air has been suppressed since childhood, and she was never told about it. If she had been, Atlantis would have descended and stolen her away to be used and discarded by the Bane. It has been prophesized that Iolanthe will destroy the Bane and save the realm, aided by Prince Titus, who has been preparing for the moment their fates become entwined. He was forewarned of her arrival and his own destiny by his deceased mother, who had been a Seer. He knows that his mother foresaw his demise on the road to victory, but is determined to help Iolanthe, defend his kingdom, and destroy the Bane once and for all.
Action! Adventure! Mystery! Intrigue! Deception! Romance! What more do you want in a book? HarperCollins' Balzer + Bray imprint always puts out great, engaging fantasy. I often want to read a book just because it's from this imprint (And their other imprint, Greenwillow Books, is also fabulous). THE BURNING SKY is no exception. I read it with no expectations, and finished wanting more. I have a love-hate relationship with series when I don't wait to read them in one gulp, because I hate waiting. At the same time, I don't want to wait that long to enjoy something! Lose-Lose situation... Iolanthe and Prince Titus are both great characters. Iolanthe starts off as a bright-eyed, innocent girl, but quickly becomes wary and jaded. At the same time, she is still that girl at her core, and I loved watching her struggle to accept the fate Destiny had thrust upon her. And Prince Titus! He knows the mark of death rests upon him, but is determined to set things right. He has spent years developing an uncaring, arrogant persona to the public and hiding the lovable guy he truly is. He makes it seem like he has no great magical abilities, while in reality, he's extremely powerful in his own right...and he does it all in the name of Destiny. Neither he nor Iolanthe go into this planning to fall in love, but their journey promises to twine them together in more ways than one. There are some great unique elements in the novel as well. I love that steads such as the pegasus can have rubbery, spike-tipped wings. They're not just beautiful, but deadly, too. Great twist! I love the idea of the Crucible, a book that Iolanthe and Prince Titus go into when they need to practice. There are different realms, challenges and obstacles...and the fairy tale lover in me is secretly a fan of the way Prince Titus seems to favor the Sleeping Beauty tower guarded by wyverns.
I would definitely recommend THE BURNING SKY if you're looking for a great fantasy to sweep you away and make you forget everything else. It's reminiscent at times of other books, but not in a way that ever detracts. Instead, it's easy to focus on the story as its own entity, and to covet more upon reaching the final pages (But not in a cliffhanger way! Just in a "please don't be over" way).
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