The best books are the ones that grab your hand and whisper, ‘Follow me.’ Leading you on an adventure of epic, or perhaps small, proportions. The ones that make you laugh, cry, and stay up till midnight just to see what happens next. Even if you have work the next morning.
As a writer, I tend to bring my writing brain with me when I read books. I analyze the prose, I take apart the plot, I critique the world building. It drives my family crazy. While it can be helpful, I find that it sometimes takes me out of the magic of the story itself. I am so caught up in wondering why it works, that I forget to enjoy the fact that it is working.
Not so with this story. From the first page, my writing brain was left in the dust. There was no room for analyzing as the story unfolded before my eyes. The story gripped me and I don’t think I will ever escape its grasp.
Introducing, ‘The Burning Sky’, by Sherry Thomas.
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been told. (actually, no one bothered to tell her, but they did let the bad guys know. Oops.) The one prophesied for years to be the savior of the Realm. (meteors man, they tell all) It is her duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training. (Yeah duh.)
Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, (no vengeance involved, just the wishes of a long dead princess.) Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. (well, sorta…) But he makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. (Whoops. Now watcha gonna do?) Now, with the servants of the tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life. (Actually, it is more like he is choosing between the mission and his life. Free the world? Or live to old age? Hmmmm…)
The blurb makes it sound waaaay simpler than it actually is. No mention of Eton, subtle magic, or the Inquisitor. Somehow, the author weaves in lots of threads and ideas into one cohesive whole. She brings in a boys boarding school, magical creatures, and portals in a way that totally makes sense. And no, this is not a rip off of Harry Potter. Not even close.
First, lets talk characters. One of the main characters, Titus, is trying to take down the most powerful mage in the history of ever because his mom said he would. Prophecies on steroids, basically. So he is being pulled by his love for his mother, his hatred for the bad guy, and this weight that is his destiny. Those motivations are all interconnected because of what the bad guy did to his family. There is no one reason why he is trying to save the world, there are many, and they play off each other and sometimes pull him in different directions. Those motivations alone make him a super interesting character, without even counting his effortless lying, agonizing crush, and a deep missing of his mother that aches all the way through the pages.
Iolanthe is a little bit easier to talk about, maybe. She is motivated by the need to survive. All she wants to do is get through her life with the least amount of pain as possible. So far, she hasn’t done an awful job of it. Then she gets mixed up with a driven boy who is completely convinced that she is the one prophesied to save the world. Does she believe him? Yes. Does she care? Nope. It is her arc, from a self focused fearful person to an outward focused brave mage that kept me glued to the page. It doesn’t happen all at once, nor does it happen easily, but bit by bit, she becomes a better person. She realizes that there is more to her world than what was in her village, and meets people who inspire her and challenge her to be better.
Also, the simmering romance between the two has to be one of my favorite literary romances of the year. Such a slow burn guys, but it was worth it in the end.
Let’s talk world building. The story literally never stopped to explain itself. The characters never paused to tell the reader what they meant when they said ‘vaulting’ or to define what their spells meant. It was as if the reader didn’t exist. I was watching a couple of characters who were completely unaware that they were in a book. They were just going about their lives. Although it was a steep learning curve in the beginning, I liked the style. I usually dislike it when the plot stops so that the character can tell the reader, through some medium of course, like a conversation, what exactly is going on. I like being able to figure it out. But I know that not every reader is like that, so the style of world building may not be your cup of tea, and that is just fine.
Although, if you like urban fantasies or portal fantasies, you will probably like this book. Somehow, she was able to mix both kinds of fantasies into a super interesting world where magic abounds, in certain places…
To wrap up this totally articulate post, I was not prepared to like this book as much as I did. Much less find a book that captured my imagination so neatly as this one did. It reminded me of all the late nights as a teen with a flashlight under my covers reading my way into different worlds and new adventures.