{Review/Giveaway} A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess

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O P E N I N G   H O O K:

    Sarah, barely six years old, squeezed my hand as we walked the school corridors toward the headmaster's parlor. I'd allowed her to wear her gray cloak indoors because the morning fires hadn't yet been laid. Fog pressed in against the high windows, darkening the stone hall. For Sarah's sake, I kept a smile on my face. My fear could not win today.

(Page 9, US e-ARC edition)

“You have violated every directive the Order could ever give! He grabbed my hand and kissed it. And you are everything I hoped you'd be. His eyes shone with tears. Everything.” 


A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING by Jessica Cluess marks the author's debut novel, but her writing already has a sense of familiarity that I know I'll return to again and again. In small ways, reading this book reminded me of other stories I love and want to return to now, such as Sherry Thomas' amazing Elementals trilogy (Elemental magic--called Sorcery here, set in historical London) and even Disney's Mulan (A determined girl pretending to be something she isn't, though the comparisons certainly stop there). It's also reminiscent of all those harem anime/manga stories that are so popular such as Fruits Basket and Ouran High School Host Club, because it centers around a lone girl studying and rooming with six male students. Little, tiny reminders from so many genres made this feel familiar, and at the same time, the story is unique and brand-new, making it easy to fly through.

This is a London where Queen Victoria still rules, a London full of magic. It used to be full of witches, magicians, and sorcerers, but now, sorcery is the only acceptable form of magic. A witch and a magician once unlocked a portal that brought seven terrifying Ancients through:

   Seven are the Ancients, seven are the days,
Monday for R'hlem, the Skinless Man,
On-Tez on Tuesday, the old Vulture Lady,
Callax is Wednesday, the Child Eater,
Zem the Great Serpent crisps Thursday with his breath,
On Friday fear Korozoth, the Shadow and Fog,
Never sail on Saturday says Nemneris the Water Spider,
And rain on Sunday brings Molochoron the Pale Destroyer.

(pg. 16, US e-ARC edition)

Society is now fighting a war to stay safe and keep these Ancients at bay, but so much has been destroyed and hundreds of lives have been ruined. Due to the betrayal of the magicial and the witch, sorcery is now the only acceptable form of magic...but even sorcery isn't enough to overcome the Ancients. There is a prophecy that a "girl-child" will arrive who can wield fire and help change the tides of the war, and Master Agrippa has been searching for her. He thinks he has found her when he discovers Henrietta Howel, a sixteen year old boarding school student recently promoted to teacher. He brings her into his home to train alongside six male sorcerers-in-training to get them ready for commendation. However, Henrietta Howel is not what she seems, and it's wrong to pin all of the Order's hopes on her lying shoulders...

I really loved all the twists and turns of this book. I love the way the summary screams that this is a book about a girl of prophecy, and then says, "Hey, wait, this ISN'T the girl of prophecy." Except, maybe it IS the girl of prophecy, even though nobody, not even her, thinks so, because the translation is rough. I like that play a lot and can't wait to see whether or not my own thoughts are right as I continue onward with the trilogy.

There are a lot of really interesting relationships and dynamics at play, some more startling than others. There's a grand twist toward the end that makes me hope to see more of certain characters in the next book. I adore Henrietta's childhood friend Rook--and come on, just his NAME is awesome. He is so much more than he seems, and I need to see more of him in the future. I also quite embraced Lord Blackwood despite his stand-offish nature. There is so much more to him than what meets the eyes, and I genuinely am hopeful that he will become an eventual love interest. I love when characters start off at such complete odds with one another and then change for the better through that person's presence. Such a sucker for such tropes! But we shall see! I was never quite sure what to make of Magnus. Was he there for comic relief, to be an ultimate sidekick? Was something more sinister at play? I couldn't completely read him, and so I couldn't completely make a decision. It will be interesting to see his evolution over the course of the series. I also really liked the fatherly relationship Henrietta had with her teacher, acclaimed sorcerer Agrippa. She needed someone to believe in her, and he needed someone to fill his heart after the loss of his daughter. There was just so much to love about all of the characters in A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING, and I can't wait to see them become even more fleshed out and realized in future books. Some series don't have as much development in the early books and readers think, "Well, it's only the first book. It will get better!" I never found the development lacking in this debut!

I was also a fan of the fact that Henrietta is PRACTICAL. In an age where women sew and play music and dream of no better life than being a governess, Henrietta wants more. She doesn't care about poetry or learning a romance language. She loves history and science. She's invested in learning and isn't afraid of her own mind. This is, of course, off-putting for the male sorcerers, many of whom don't want a female in their midst to begin with, but she also has staunch supporters. Henrietta's presence and demeanor shake up the world of sorcery, and things will never be the same again. I can't wait to continue on her journey.

The other thing I really loved about A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING was the world building. The Ancients are HORRIFYING. I wouldn't want to live in a world with them. They spew death and horror everywhere they go. We only really encounter the aftermath of a couple of them in the first novel, but as the series continues, I'm sure we will see more of the others as well. I liked the different dynamics of magical abilities and the way the world was created by this feud, not just with the Ancients, but also through the rift lying through the three types of magic: sorcery, magician, and witch. It will be interesting to see the way all these paths merge into one on their way to the finale that will surely change London forever!

A SHADOW BRIGHT AND BURNING hits bookstores this week, so look out for it on the shelves when you hit up your local bookstore!

Content Ratings: highlight between ( ) for details

Romance: PG 13 There's a brief making out scene when two characters are drunk, and the male wants to go further but the female says no. There's inference, but nothing explicit happens or is mentioned. )
Language: PG 13 ( General words such as "damn" and "bastard." Some sexual innuendo, which may go over younger heads because it isn't explicit. )
Violence:  PG13 ( Mention of gore. Not overly explicit, but the word choice for what is happening is semi-explicit. There is also an Ancient who is mentioned to flay people, and his own exposed persona is often described. There are also battle scenes and images of people draped after death. )
Other:  PG13 A character drinks too much champagne, but the age limits aren't the same and this isn't at any sort of underage drinking party. There is an abusive school headmaster. )
C O V E R   D E S I G N:

I really like the idea of this cover, and the way it actually pulls something from the story that you won't realize until after you've read the book.

I'm not completely swayed on the color choices, however, and think that, together, they look a little muddy. I'm hopeful that there will be effects on the cover in person and that it will look different, because the computer screen isn't always the best judge!
O F F I C I A   I N F O:

Author: Jessica Cluess
Release Date: September 20, 2016
Publisher: Random House BFYR
Received: For Review

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? 

"Vivid characters, terrifying monsters, and world building as deep and dark as the ocean." —Victoria Aveyard, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Red Queen "Unputdownable. I loved the monsters, the magic, and the teen warriors who are their world's best hope!" —Tamora Pierce, #1 New York Times bestselling author 

"The magic! The intrigue! The guys! We were sucked into this monster-ridden, alternative England from page one. Henrietta is literally a 'girl on fire' and this team of sorcerers training for battle had a pinch of Potter blended with a drop of [Cassandra Clare's] Infernal Devices." —Justine Magazine 

"A fun, inventive fantasy. I totally have a book crush on Rook." —Sarah Rees Brennan, New York Times bestselling author 

"Pure enchantment. I love how Cluess turned the 'chosen one' archetype on its head. With the emotional intensity of my favorite fantasy books, this is the kind of story that makes you forget yourself." —Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen 

"A glorious, fast-paced romp of an adventure. Jessica Cluess has built her story out of my favorite ingredients: sorcery, demons, romance, and danger." —Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters

About the Author
JESSICA CLUESS is a writer, a graduate of Northwestern University, and an unapologetic nerd. After college, she moved to Los Angeles, where she served coffee to the rich and famous while working on her first novel. When she's not writing books, she's an instructor at Writopia Lab, helping kids and teens tell their own stories.


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