A Shadow Bright and Burning by Jessica Cluess

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RATING: 5/5

SYNOPSIS: Henrietta Howel has had to keep her flames a secret in fear of being executed for being a witch, but when the Ancients come after her best friend, Rook, her powers are revealed in front of one of the greatest sorcerers in England and Henrietta discovers that she is the prophesied sorcerer who will save the world from the Ancients. She is taken to be trained along side six other young sorcerers (all boys) where she discovers that maybe she isn’t the prophesied one after all.

 

From the first page I was absolutely hooked! Henrietta is a wonderful protagonist and while there was some romantic elements, it took a backseat to her sorcery training. I loved her relationships with all the various men in her life because they were all unique and served a different purpose in how she grew as a character. The only thing that I wish is that there were more female characters for her to interact and form deep relationships with the way she did with her mentors, Agrippa and Hargrove, Magnus, Lord Blackwood, and, of course, Rook. I also loved how characters weren’t always what they seemed (even though Magnus’s revelation obliterated my heart with a sledgehammer and I don’t know how to feel about that) and most of the character twists had groundwork (except for Magnus and Agrippa but I feel like the fallout from Agrippa’s revelation was handled better than the one for Magnus). I hope in the next book we see more of all the other characters because I feel like Magnus, Agrippa, and Jenkins Hargrove got the brunt of the Henrietta interaction and I fell in love with all the other characters too. I know Rook and Lord Blackwood will have an increasingly larger role, but Dee, Wolfe, Lamb, Eliza, and Lily were all lively characters that I wanted more of than just the snippets they appeared for in Henrietta’s journey. The cast of characters is so fun though and I love how all the boys interact with each other and Henrietta. I love how all of them (except Lord Blackwood) accepted her immediately so there wasn’t this annoying, posturing, “I’m a guy so obviously I’m better than you” thing that goes on (especially in Victorian England). I also love that while there are quite a few feminist aspects to Henrietta’s thoughts and actions, she also goes by how society was during the period which I liked. I feel like authors try to take misogynistic eras and make all the characters super feminist which doesn’t make an accurate picture, but there was a nice mixture of forward-thinking and backward-thinking (mainly the antagonistic characters) people that helped create this fantasy Victorian era. The Ancients are also really cool and I love how they have this Lovecraftian feel to them while also feeling wholly original. I’m excited to see the other Ancients as the serious continues and learning more about them. Aside from Magnus breaking my heart, I loved the characters, the pacing, the twists, the action, the romance, the era, and just about everything (including the kitchen sink) this book had to offer. I eagerly await its sequel and hope there are many more books to come!

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