Monday, January 20, 2014

The Burning Sky

I wasn't sure at first that I would enjoy The Burning Sky, a young adult fantasy romance by Sherry Thomas, but it didn't take me long to become fascinated, and by the end, I wasn't ready for it to be over. Fortunately, it's just the beginning of a trilogy, but that's also the frustrating part: I can't read the next part of the story yet.

The Burning Sky has some elements that are Harry-Potter-like, particularly as far as magic is concerned. Magic is usually performed with a wand, and certain Latin words must be recited. There is a hidden magic realm, but the kids go to school in Victorian London in the normal world. There is a magical train car that attaches to the regular train to transport one of them to the school. And there's a big baddie that the characters are destined to defeat.

Harry Potter is not the only magic world that seems borrowed from. In fact, the magic elements of the story cross over into something a little like Avatar: The Last Airbender. There's subtle magic, which most people use, and then there's elemental magic, which is direct control over water, earth, fire, and air. And like in Avatar: The Last Airbender, the character is supposed to be the greatest elemental mage of her time, which means she should be able to control all four elements; she just can't figure out how to master air. But aside from these noticeable similarities to other stories, the plot of this one veers off into new territory soon enough.

The story itself is intriguing and relatively large-world, though focused narrowly on only two characters. One is Prince Titus, who is basically a puppet sent to school in the normal world so that he can have even less chance of learning magic and gaining the power he might need to overthrow the Bane. The other is Iolanthe, a young elemental mage, struggling to provide for her addicted caretaker through the sale of what she considers to be paltry elemental magic powers. But the prince has been waiting for a prophecy given by his now-dead mother to reveal to him the elemental mage he must help to defeat the Bane. It's a cause he's willing to give his life for, but when Iolanthe shows up, she's anything but what he expected. What's more, she doesn't have the same convictions he has. Iolanthe needs his protection to hide from the Bane. She'll even pretend to be a boy at an all-boys school. But she won't make it easy for the prince.

When I was looking up Sherry Thomas on Goodreads, I was surprised to discover that she is a prolific adult romance writer. From the types of covers her romances have, one might expect this book to be more sensual. But there's no sex at all. Instead, there's the underlying tension of a boy falling in love with a girl who doesn't even like him and not being able to do much about it because of the fact that he's trying to pass her off as a boy to all who know him. It's a fun romance that grows from friendship, or at least a partnership, first. You know the girl is going to come around. Otherwise, it wouldn't be a romance. But the fun is in how it all comes about. Thomas is obviously experienced on that end, and I'm pleased to say she delivers well on all accounts: romance, adventure, fantasy, fairy tale. I cannot say whether future novels in the trilogy will remain sex-free, but at least this first one is a safe and morally sound read for all, without sacrificing an interesting plot.

Four and a half stars.

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