Jessica Cluess: A Shadow Bright and Burning

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?

I’ve seen this cover everywhere because hooooooly cow is that a gorgeous cover, ya’ll. But, I really hadn’t HEARD that much about the book itself. I knew zero about it! The sequel popped up for review, and I had a gift card, so why not read both at the same time and add two pretty hardcovers to my shelf? It’s not too often I get to do that.

This started out really strong, and for the first half of the book I couldn’t put it down. It’s a pretty recognizable fantasy–magical setting, wand chooses owner, some kind of wickedness threatening with a prophesied Chosen One coming to save everyone. Victoria is queen, so the fact that our hero is a Jane Eyre-type girl without any world experience makes a lot of sense. She’s thrust into a world of men to learn how to wield her powers against the incoming evil. There’s a lot of threads we’ve all read before–nothing super original, but I enjoyed the book…mostly.

However, there are some problems we need to address before I move onto the sequel.

There’s a lot of misogyny in this book. A LOT of misogyny. And yeah, it’s sort of expected, when the heroine is the only lady sorcerer in 400 years. But it got pretty toxic–not only does one of her best friends take advantage of her, she’s told by her teacher to apologize to him…not the other way around. Um…how about no?

Also, the treatment of the poor in this book is HORRIBLE. They are left for dead behind a Battle of Hogwarts style magical ward, and when the bad guys show up to steal their life force, they are then labeled as Unclean and shipped off to a leprosy colony to die. They are basically treated as medical waste–a blocker so the rich are left alone. It’s gross.

I still have the second book to read for review, so that’ll be coming up next week. This wasn’t the worst fantasy novel I’ve ever read….but it wasn’t fantastic either. Just, okay. I had fun reading it, and I’m sure I’ll have fun reading the second one.

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