The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas is all kinds of fun. I thoroughly enjoyed myself while I was reading it. I received an e-galley from the publisher and I'm glad I did otherwise it may have sat on my TBR for longer than necessary. It is not without its faults, but I felt the ride was totally worth it.
Iolanthe Seabourne is
the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she's being told.
The one prophesied for years to be the savior of The Realm. It is her
duty and destiny to face and defeat the Bane, the greatest mage tyrant
the world has ever known. A suicide task for anyone let alone a
sixteen-year-old girl with no training, facing a prophecy that foretells
a fiery clash to the death.
Prince Titus of Elberon has sworn to
protect Iolanthe at all costs but he's also a powerful mage committed
to obliterating the Bane to revenge the death of his family—even if he
must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.
This is a high fantasy with an shadowy evil overlord who works through his minions. There are countries under siege. There is magic. There are prophecies.
It is a portal fantasy. People from The Realm can come into our world-and when they do it is into the 1880's. (So I guess we can call it historical fantasy too.)
It is a gamer fantasy. Yes. You read that right. There is gaming in this book. Titus has a volume of stories and myths passed down through his family. He can enter it, recreate scenes, defeat monsters, rescue princesses. He uses the book to train himself in magic and warfare, and later on brings Iolanthe into it to train her.
Is this a lot going on in one book? Yes. Might it have been slightly overambitious? Possibly. Not all of the world building works perfectly. I have some questions but am withholding full judgement until the other books come out. (Yes, it's a trilogy.) Mostly this book reminded me of how much I love this sort of story, and how I haven't been reading enough of them lately. Despite my questions I did like the world building and thought Thomas did a fantastic job creating Eton in 1888 for the historical parts in our world. The plot is fast paced with lots going on. Titus and Iolanthe are hiding in plain sight, lying constantly, having to work through their issues with each other (I will get there in a moment), and defeat evil. And also write critical essays and do Latin translations. So. They are quite busy. And I loved reading every moment of it, from the magical monster fighting elements, to the intricate political intrigue around Titus, even the life at Eton. All of it appealed to me greatly and I did not want to put this book down.
Now, as most of you know, I'm a character reader. This is where the book fell short for me. Don't get me wrong, I really like both Titus and Iolanthe. I just felt that their characters were not as fleshed out as they might have been. Yet strangely for me I wasn't as bothered by this as I usually am. I liked them. Titus is a tormented hero. But he is also funny, brilliant, and BELIEVABLY tormented. He is not always likeable, but is sympathetic. Iolanthe is a bit of a "special one". But she has to work for it. Hard. I did raise my eyebrows at how easily she slipped into the pretend role Titus created for her, but that can be explained by his magic so I went with it. At first I was taken aback by the romantic element. Not that they have romantic feelings for one another, but the way it played out felt like a romance novel in places. (It came as absolutely no surprise to me when I discovered the author is also a romance novelist. And I like romance novels. Thomas's have been added to my TBR. I was just thrown off a bit by the presence of romance tropes in my high fantasy.) But I do like them and I like them together so am not all that fussed. I like where their relationship was at the end of this book and can't wait to see it develop in the next books.
In the end The Burning Sky leaves the reader with a lot of unanswered questions. It doesn't have a cliffhanger ending (yay!), but there is still much unresolved and so much more to know. I'm really looking forward to the sequel.
If you are looking for a fun roller coaster ride of a high fantasy read, this is definitely one I would recommend.
I read an e-galley made available by the publisher, Balzar +Bray, via Edelweiss. The Burning Sky is available for purchase September 17.