Title: The Burning Sky
Author: Sherry Thomas
Series: The Elemental Trilogy – Book 1
Release Date: September 17, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Source: Edelweiss DRC
Genre(s): YA Fiction, YA Fantasy, Historical Fantasy
Sometimes I have a hard time getting into fantasy novels. It’s just a fact of being me. I don’t know why it can be so hard for me. I think it’s mostly because I just have a very high standard for fantasy world building and the like. And, unfortunately, a lot of fantasy stories seem to fail to live up to those expectations. So when a fantasy novel wins me over, it’s kind of a big deal.
The Burning Sky won me over pretty early on.
The story is set between two worlds – our world back in the 1800s – and the world of Iolanthe Seabourne. Born an elemental mage and orphan, she has spent her entire life living with and training under her mentor Haywood. She’s fairly powerful as she can control three of the four elements which in her world is impressive. Most elemental mages control just a couple and none ever control all four. And yet there is something about her that seems destined for greatness.
While she goes about her simple, parochial life the prince of her conquered kingdom, Prince Titus, waits for a sign – that of a great mage harnessing the power of lightning. His mother was a great seer and she made a prophecy that someday Titus would find a great elemental mage who could harness all the elements and he would become known to him by a flash of lightning that Titus would see from his balcony on a specific day. And that mage would help Titus defeat the powerful and seemingly unkillable Bane and the Atlanteans and free his kingdom.
He’s also always known that this freedom would come with a cost – his life. But for his people, his kingdom, and fate itself he knows he cannot deviate from that future. So he’s prepared for the arrival of this mage and created a new identity for him at his boarding school in our world – Eton. The problem is that this male figure he’s always known was there in his mother’s visions crying over his death isn’t this elemental mage. He was never prepared for Iolanthe and Iolanthe – who has lived an inconsequential life with her once great (and now just alcoholic) mentor – was never prepared to find herself thrown into any sort of battle.
I really enjoyed the way that both Iolanthe and Titus were developed as characters. Iolanthe is a great, strong female character that I think a lot of people could relate to and Titus is an equally strong though at times manipulative character hellbent on accomplishing the seemingly impossible. Iolanthe really rose to the challenge and proved that she was the great mage that was prophesied even if she didn’t really believe it. I loved how she fit in at Eton and embraced her Archer Fairfax persona – a fake identity that the prince established for her at the school back when he thought that ‘Fairfax’ would be a boy. She makes friends, makes a name for herself in her house, and becomes quite the accomplished cricketer if nothing else.
I also really enjoyed seeing things from Titus’s perspective. I know that Iolanthe is billed as the more important leading character – or at least that’s the vibe you get – but I really liked Titus. I mean, I felt for Iolanthe when he sort of forced her to go along with all this craziness but the fact of the matter is that this is a guy whose always known his life was forfeit in the grander scheme of things and freeing his kingdom. While his entire family seems to conspire with the Atlanteans, the Bane’s representatives – particularly the High Inquisitor, and anyone else they can collaborate with he’s stood strong and trusted his mother’s recorded prophecies. He knows that sometimes success means sacrifice… and yet he also has a conscience. He also knows what he’s doing sometimes is wrong and he really does at times labor over his choices.
Both characters are really well established and fleshed out. I think I would have like to see some of the tertiary characters – particularly the boys at Eton – getting a bit more screen time. Kashkari is a great character who reminds people of the English history of imperialism and Wintervale I think will have a much larger part to play in the future when he ultimately learns the truth. (He, too, is from the magical world and knows that Titus is the prince of his homeland so ultimately I’m sure he’ll find out the truth about ‘Fairfax’ and become a major player.) But I suppose we have two more books for all of that.
Now, is it a perfect book? No, what book is perfect? But I do have to say that for a YA book this one reads better than most. The author does force the whole romance aspect on people and I think that we could have gone this entire book without kissing or anything like that. I think that the second book would have been a great time for them to explore those feelings. Instead all that seems rushed and almost a bit out of place. But that’s true of pretty much all YA stories so I don’t hold it against the Burning Sky at all.
Sometimes the world building was a bit off and I didn’t really understand some things. I had a hard time following some of the magic, too, but that’ might just be me. As I said, fantasy isn’t my usual thing.
Honestly, I think we’re looking at what’s probably going to be one of the genuinely best YA fantasy releases of this year, folks.
When it comes out in September you really ought to look it up.