Tuesday, June 6, 2017

A Shadow Bright and Burning

Nettie is resigned to a life as a teacher in at a school where it's always freezing and the headmaster abuses students without repercussions. For a while, her emotions have been tied to an innate power that produces fire. Sorcerer officials come to investigate the students for powers and she's found out. She expects execution. Instead, they think she's the prophecized savior against the Ancients, giant horrific monsters. Most of the other students welcome her, but Blackwood keeps aloof. When the lessons aren't going as well as they should, Nettie discovers that her magic isn't like all the other sorcerers and struggles to hide it while the barrier around London against the Ancients thins. Is she the prophecized girl sorcerer or is she a fraud?

A Shadow Bright and Burning is a fantasy novel that merges a magical world with Victorian England. This world has three classes of magic user: sorcerer, magician, and witch. Sorcerers are the only magic users that can legally practice and the most lauded by society. They protect England from the Ancients, which were brought into this world by the combined powers of a magician and a witch. This is why both groups are killed if they practice magic and considered morally bankrupt and evil. All of this occurs within conventional Victorian society where women can't hold any power, which is why Nettie experiences opposition. Another reason is her fondness for Rook, a poor man with scars from an Ancient that makes him the lowest of the low. Nettie doesn't make compromises with her opinions that the poor and the scarred deserve protection while now they lay outside the barrier.

One aspect I especially loved was the Ancients. They are giant Lovecraftian monsters who attack all around the world. Korozoth towers at 60 feet with a horned head and vicioud tentacles. R'hlem has the appearance of a giant skinless man. On-Tez has the body of a vulture and the head of an old woman. Nemneris is a fifty feet long, venomous water spider. Molochron is an orb of disgusting disease. Zem is a serpent that breathes ice. Callax is an ogre with a taste for children. Familiars serve these monsters, corrupted humans imbued with some of their power. Some of them hold entire cities in their thrall. These are my favorite part of the story, but Cluess pulls back on the horror aspects by giving vague descriptions of horrific events. I would have liked more horror elements because they were the most unique part of the story.

I wanted to like this book so much, but it was a bit of a hot mess. The magic system is interesting, but apparently there are fairies that don't fit into the world and pop up conveniently in a few choice scenes. I was very disappoointed in the treatment of other women and the absence of any witches at all. Nettie seemed happy to have the prestige of one of the only women in power, but didn't really fight or even acknowledge the plight of other women. I thought this would be introduced during others' misogynistic treatment of her. Queen Victoria, the only other woman in power, is portrayed as a frivolous child, which felt both condescending and unrealistic. The inclusion of a witch at the end would have brought the story full circle. I was interested to see this extremely oppressed group whose power was discriminated against because of their gender and the focus of their magic.

Other things I had a problem with were Blackwood, the love triangle, and the ending. Blackwood keeps her at arm's length and doesn't give her any respect. Later, he explains why, but this seems to be perpetuating the idea that it's ok for people to have bigoted opinions if they have really good reasons. It would have been a good opportunity to model how one should act when confronted with bigotry. The love triangle between Nettie, Rook, and Magnus isn't well done. Love triangles are overdone anyway, but Rook only appears in the story a few times while Magnus is constantly there, building a relationship with Nettie. Then, as always, one of them is completely destroyed in the eyes of the reader to solve the triangle. The ending has so many bad deceisions made in very little time. Leaps of logic and the magic system made me give up on this series. I'm not interested to see what will happen next. A Shadow Bright and Burning had a lot of promise, but it focused on things I didn't care about and downplayed the things I did in addition to the hot mess of an ending.

My rating: 2/5 fishmuffins

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