• Page Count: 416
  • Release Date: September 20, 2016
  • My Rating: 2.5 stars

Book Description:

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?

My Thoughts:


Ok forgive the length of this rant but this needs to happen. Guess what else looks like this cover and perfectly summarizes how I feel:

This book had SO MUCH POTENTIAL and I was absolutely thrilled with what felt like a certain 5 star read for the first half. But then it turned into 4 stars and I kept staring at it in confusion as it slowly dwindled down to a 1 star that I didn’t even want to finish at the very end. Like I could see the star meter just slowly dying… and I am so very sad.

The story starts with Henrietta living on the English moors at a miserable school with her best friend Rook. Henrietta has the ability to burst into flames (but her clothes don’t burn off of her) and she’s discovered by a sorcerer, who tells her she’s the prophesied one to save them all. Henrietta is taken to London to train with six other sorcerer boys, but she demands that Rook come with so her love triangle/square can function properly. Meanwhile Henrietta needs to train to pass a test to be allowed to train as a sorcerer so that she can pass a test from Queen Victoria in order to… be a sorcerer.

The Ancients are part of a potentially interesting history about the divide that resulted between sorcerers and magicians when they summoned those monster things (basically magicians are despised now and sorcerers are awesome). The Ancients were explained as:

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.”

But everything with these Ancients (and most major plot points) felt like it was casually dropped sideways into the story to the point where the story played it too safe. I wanted MORE. The plot danced around everything instead of going somewhere clear, so the weak execution made everything awesome hover just out of reach. (Plus, every time someone would be about to reveal their feelings or a crucial piece of information, there would be a knock on the door. Or someone would interrupt. Or the person would straight up vanish. This would’ve increased tension if I actually had something to care about or if it didn’t happen every other freaking chapter).

I absolutely love other stories about magicians/sorcerers that are also set in Victorian England (like Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, The Amulet of Samarkand, The Infernal Devices, etc) and this really reminded me of those books plus Harry Potter. But that’s the issue… it only vaguely reminded me of them and didn’t really contribute anything original. There were casual mentions throughout the story of faerie kings, a hobgoblin who serves Queen Mab, and some random fun creatures with multiple arms and pointy ears, but they stuck out like a sore thumb and seemed thrown in just to emphasize that this is not the world you know. The author had some interesting ideas, but was SO incredibly cautious about the whole thing that it was like every fun part of the story hid in the background and timidly poked its head in every few chapters to politely apologize for existing. I don’t know how to explain but it just didn’t work for me.

Henrietta herself was likable, but about halfway through she lost the strong character she had at the start… like there’s not much reaction from her and she loses a lot of agency. And most of the story focused on the men in Henrietta’s life telling her that women couldn’t be sorcerers, that she’d never belong, and that it’s not Biblical for women to have pride or power. It got to the point where I was like “I get that you’re trailblazing here. I get that you’re a girl and up against tons of odds… just GO DO IT or stop being the main character.”

If you’re totally new to YA fantasy or haven’t read many YA books published in the past decade, this could totally be a fun story. But I feel like pretty much every YA fantasy book these days is about a super tough girl assassin/magic princess… we do not need to be told over and over that girls can do things. I excused this for the first half of the book because maybe this story needed to establish the time period’s social norms. But it seriously got so old. Just have the girl kick ass instead of spending 90% of the story telling her she can’t in order to build some obstacle for her to overcome. The story almost took a backseat to this monotonous tirade of “girls can’t do that,” which was boring when the story had so many other neat ideas that weren’t used.

Ok and I need to talk about that Magnus guy because WHAT WAS THAT. He starts out the story as a cocky guy who reminded me a bit too much of Carswell Thorne or Will Herondale. Then Henrietta’s good friend Magnus gets her drunk and tries to sleep with her, reveals he’s actually engaged to someone else, and turns into a total ass. Then he confronts her later to say she was basically asking for it and can’t say she didn’t like it etc. He turns into a totally different person and spins a horrible story to everyone else which makes her apologize to him. BUT then a few chapters later Henrietta’s kissing him on the cheek and telling him what a true friend he is and he’s back to his cocky alternate personality?? And everything’s good again? Is this supposed to be a character I like because NO. I was not moved when he finally accepted her as one of them.

Honestly, most of this book felt like a series of disjointed scenes to the point where I was completely detached and just watching it fall apart like “what next.” Without a clear direction, even relevant info felt like filler. I rolled with it in the first half because the world & idea of the story were so much fun, but the story was still trying to find its footing at 75%.

This book mainly felt like it was setting up a bunch of sequels with all of these leads and hints about the identity of the guy who’s training Henrietta and his connection with her dead parents, how Lord Blackwell’s home at Sorrow-fell seemed familiar,the evil sorcerer and his minions, the Ancients visiting Henrietta in her dreams, the identity of the daughter of the main sorcerer guy, and all of the other stuff that didn’t matter in this story. Basically, the author introduced a lot of cool things, but never fully used any of it. And there’s a point where failing to give an explanation or follow through just loses my interest completely instead of creating suspense.

I’m still giving it 2.5 stars because ENGLAND. MAGIC. MOORS. All of the elements I love. And I might still check out the sequel because there IS a ton of potential in this storyline and the author’s writing style is good!


4 comments on “Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess”

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