Review: A Shadow Bright and Burning

23203252Title: A Shadow Bright and Burning (Kingdom on Fire #1)

Author: Jessica Cluess

Publisher: Random House BFYR

Publication Date: September 20th, 2016

Summary: 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?

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A huge thanks to Netgalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

I’m not going to lie, this one was tough for me. It’s possible that this book is actually amazing on a regular basis but because I read it while still recovering from the disgusting hangover that EoS gave me, I had abnormally difficult time with it. But that being said, it doesn’t change the fact that this book was really just so hard for me to get into and, to be honest, just not that great.

Right away, this book was confusing. I’ve never been opposed the authors acting like their readers actually have brains and letting us fill in some gaps, but damn, this book just jumped right in, talking about Ancients and having spooky monster girls on flying stags dropping out the sky. All with very little explanation about the world or what was happening. My brain was definitely a little annoyed and I found it hard to follow.

But hey, I kept reading because you know, magic and sorcerers and cool staves that you can twirl around and whoosh wind at people with. Those are all things I like. But you know what I don’t like? Boring characters. The typical “chosen one” story line. Continuously stupid decisions. Giant love triangle squiggle things. All of those are bad. And all of those were in this book.

My main issue with this book was that I honestly didn’t care about any of the characters at all. I had a hard time even keeping all of the boys straight, to be honest. But not even that, they also made decisions that made me resent them or had random changes of heart that made no sense to me. Two characters that hate each other with a passion through the whole book suddenly have a little heart to heart and the next thing I know, they are literally best friends. No joke, like calling each other their best friend and parading around with their arms linked, best friend badges nice and shiny for the world to see. And Henrietta lies a lot. But these boys still have this weird unshakable faith in her, almost like some sort of hero worship that feels very undeserved. Speaking of lying, this was one of those books where the main character has to lie and sneak around all the time and you are just counting down the pages until you know it’s going to blow up in their face as dramatically as possible.

And of course, I have to discuss the love blob that was happening here. It felt so forced and shallow, I could hardly stand it. There are multiple guys that have feelings for Henrietta, but she hardly ever thinks about them romantically until they are in the moment and something romantic happens, then she just brushes it off with hardly a second thought. There was no progression or building when it came to the romance, it was just kind of there, but in a way that just didn’t work at all. So there is definitely a love triangle, but I’m going so far as to call it a love blob because there’s a third guy that doesn’t pursue her romantically in this book but I’m calling it right now; it will happen.

This might seem like a random, nit-picky thing, but it bothered me so much that I have to mention it. At some point in this book, a character is telling Henrietta something important. He tries to twice and it’s that thing where he conveniently gets cut off one second before he can mention the important part of what he’s trying to tell her… So for example (this isn’t in the book), he’s like, “I only have a second. The treasure’s buried in-” BOOM, CONVENIENT EXPLOSION.

Come on. This bothers me so much. It feels so childish and lazy, like the author can’t think of a creative way to tie this secret in or make us intrigued enough to pick up the next book without employing the use of this extremely annoying and cheap feeling tactic.

The one redeeming factor this book had was that towards the end, it actually started to pick up and I did get a little interested. Up until about 85%, nothing really happened in the book, just Henrietta lying and juggling multiple boys and bursting into flames a few times. But last chunk of the book was a bit faster paced and exciting.

So overall, my main problem with this book was really that nothing felt original or unique. Not the story or the characters. The writing felt simple and uncomplicated, the relationships flat and forced, and the magic was disappointing. I really wanted to like this book because it sounded like something I would love, but it just didn’t deliver. I will give it two stars though for the fact that I did finish it and didn’t hate the end and that overall, it didn’t make me angry, it just left me feeling very meh.

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Review: A Vanishing Glow

Title: A Vanishing Glow (The Mystech Arcanum Vol. I & II)  26631848

Author: Alexis Radcliffe

Publication Date: September 15th, 2015

Summary: It is an Age of Revolution, an Age of Industrialism. Constructs, living men who are as much brass and steel as they are flesh, man the factories and wage the wars of a ruling elite who gorge themselves on the fruits of the common man’s labor. Mystech, a brilliant fusion of magic and machine, gives rise to a new class of privileged inventors and merchants even as the country festers with wounds from decades of internal strife.

Only one man holds the promise of a brighter future: Nole Ryon, the crown prince. When his childhood friend Jason Tern answers his call for aid, the two of them set out to fight for the change their country needs in order to survive, even as shadowy foes frustrate their efforts. But soon, Jason and Nole’s idealistic mission of hope becomes a furious manhunt for a political murderer as the nation balances on the precipice of a country-wide civil war. Can they cut through the threads of intrigue to discover their true enemy before everything is lost?

Sweeping from the ancient cities at the heart of the nation to the dusty edges of the war-torn frontier, A Vanishing Glow tells a tale of lords and ladies, soldiers and assassins, friends and lovers, who come together in a time of epic struggle. Here a brave officer risks everything to win back his estranged father’s respect; a brilliant young engineer attempts to atone for her sins; a war-weary commander tries to pick up the pieces of the life he lost; and a man touched by the gods struggles to prepare a nation for the coming of an ancient evil which only he can see. In the dying light of a once-prosperous society, amid twisting plots, suffering and betrayal, lost love and shattered dreams, all must fight for what they hold dear. Who will taste the fruits of victory and who will lie bloodied on the ground in the light of a vanishing glow?

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I received a free copy from the author in exchange for an honest review.

A Vanishing Glow was not a book that I had on my TBR list or had even heard of before, but when the author approached me to ask if I would read and review, and I read the synopis, I knew I wanted to get my hands on it. This book was an intriguing story of murder, secrets, steampunk and betrayal. At the beginning we are introduced to Jason, a noble travelling to meet his childhood friend and prince, and Nilya, a young girl with a knack for engineering who is trying to run from her past. Though they initally start out with no connection, their stories soon intertwine, providing a story with dual perspectives and cause and effect through two completely different people’s eyes.

To start with, I really have to gush over the huge cast of interesting and mysterious characters in this book. On Jason’s end, we have multiple shady politicians, idealistic Nole, a weary war veteran, assassins, reporters, a disapproving father and a mysterious man in a cloak who calls himself “Hood”. Then when we move over to Nilya we get introduced to her friend Verse, multiple other members of The Crimson Fist, an injured travelling companion, healing monks and a rejected husband-to-be. Although there is a huge cast, each character is well written and unique enough that you manage to keep them all straight, as they all have some role to play in the story, be it good or bad.

One of the things I enjoyed the most was the world building, which was in my opinion, rather superbly done. The world itself was very dense, with loads of different noblity, armies and land, and while it’s hard to keep track of at first, you’ll get to the point where everything clicks. I loved how the steampunk elements were incorporated into the world and how believable I found them. And one of the main points of conflict in this story is the political struggle between all sorts of people, so we are getting multiple views on the world and how they think it should be changed, which I think contributed so much to the world building. A smaller part of the world that I enjoyed was how open they are about their sexuality, even if in the end, the rules enforced about “joining” or having mulitple partners are still unfair. I loved reading about Nilya, who likes women, and that it isn’t unacceptable that she has been with them. One of the bigggest benefits of having Jason and Nilya’s POVs is that we get to see how different actions or decisions effect nobles versus commoners, which I really enjoyed. The contrast between Jason, who is trying to fight for the good of all the people, and Nilya who is trying to save herself and find some sort of redemption along the way, I found to be a really great portrayal of the many battles people fight and how different things are worth fighting for to different people.

The plot, though slow at some times, keeps you engaged in so many different ways. We get a great blend of mental and political battles mixed in with violence and actual fights. There are several occassions throughout the book where the tension is so thick that I had to stop myself from biting my nails or covering my eyes. And although I found certain parts to be more predicitble, it balanced out well because some parts came out of no where and made me pause to collect my thoughts because it was the last thing I had been expecting. I enjoyed that lots of things constantly went wrong or got messed up, only for the characters to form a Plan B and keep moving forward.

There were only a few things I didn’t love about this book, hence the four start rating. First of all, Jason wasn’t my favorite character of all time, although I did find him very realistic. I struggled to understand some of his decisions and views on certain things and occassionaly found myself wanting to give him a good thump on the head. Also, a few parts with him were rather slow, and while I liked that it contributed to character growth or world building, I found it hard to get through.

Overall, this book was a huge and pleasant surprise and I’m very happy that the author approached me for a review. It was a great break from all of the YA I’ve been reading lately and I enjoyed the mature themes and complexity that A Vanishing Glow had in abundance. If you’re a fan of steampunk and plots full of death, deception, love and redemption, I would definitely recommend checking out this impressive debut novel.

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