Review: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
Release date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Series: #1 in the Elemental Trilogy
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: We went from a hot mess of a beginning to an inventive, magical tale with EPIC romance.
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 avenge the death of his family—even if he must sacrifice both Iolanthe and himself to achieve his goal.
But Titus makes the terrifying mistake of falling in love with the girl who should have been only a means to an end. Now, with the servants of the Bane closing in, he must choose between his mission and her life.
I spent all of my Across a Star-Swept Sea review talking about my favorite tropes, and I sort of wish I'd saved that discussion for this book. Because The Burning Sky employed two of my utter favorite tropes brilliantly, so brilliantly that they overcame what I thought was a kind of horrendous beginning: Girl-Disguised-as-a-Boy and I-Hate-You-I-Love-You.
I started this book with ALL THE EXCITEMENT because PRETTY COVER and MAGICAL MAYHEM AWAITED ME! The tiny little prologue really worked for me. It set the whole book up brilliantly and mentioned Eton School, which is a famous public (which means private in England, because Brits are strange) school for boys. So I kind of assumed this book would take place in England, since the prologue most assuredly did.
Nope. We start out in a tiny old-timey village in the realm of... somewhere, where a girl named Iolanthe Seabourne is having some fun with her elemental mage powers. She can control water, fire, and earth, and she's pretty bad-ass at all three of them. Her crabby, drug-addicted mentor/guardian,
"The elements are fire, air, water, and earth. Lightning is none of them."
"One could say lightning is the marriage of fire and air."
"One could say mud is the marriage of water and earth," he said dismissively.
Now, that sounds semi straightforward, but believe me, it was not. I had absolutely no freaking clue what was happening, you guys. People kept mentioning Atlantis, but in like a bad, evil way, but it has nothing to do with the famous city under the sea, but seems to have people in it, and then they mention the year is 1021 but just a second ago we were in Eaton in 1888, but wait we are talking about Rumpelstiltskin like he's real, and wait who on earth is this prince guy in a castle in the clouds who can apparently Apparate from place to place SO CONFUSED SO CONFUSED WHAT ON EARTH IS ATLANTIS PLEASE TELL ME
We're not given any time to figure anything about the world-building out. We're flung from place to place and situation to situation at a dizzying, blinding speed, and terms are whizzing by, and we're meant to grasp them. But I just had a frustration headache. And the writing was oddly formal and stilted (which never really changed, but I got used to it).
I only really started to get a handle on things once Titus, aforementioned princely fellow, takes Iolanthe to Victorian England. Apparently, there are different realms, and they're connected. Titus and Iolanthe and their silly names are from a mage realm. Their country, of which Titus is puppet prince, is under the control of Atlantis, which I still don't fully understand. Is it a society? Is it another country? Either way, it's creepy and evil as heck, and is headed by the Bane, baddest, most Voldemort-y mage of all time, and the Inquisitor, a woman who can burrow into your brain and shatter your sanity and collect your thoughts.
The Bane wants Iolanthe for REASONS. For other REASONS I won't tell you, Titus has decided to hide Iolanthe to keep her safe. So he disguises her as a boy and takes her with him to school--to Eton, where no one will look for her.
Ahhhh. That was the sound of me letting out a huge sigh of relief as the book finally starts to make of a modicum of sense. And not jsut sense... but awesome. Because once Tight-ass (hee, hee) and Iolanthe come together, that's when the real magic starts. And by magic I obviously mean
The romance is perfect. I wouldn't change a thing about the way Titus' adorably serious personality plays against Iolanthe's natural charm and bravado. I loved every swoony second of their arc--from admiration, to all-out loathing (Iolanthe's), to the beginnings of feelings they both try to fight against, to... well, I'm to going to tell you! Also, I don't think you can understand how much I love when girls disguise themselves as boys in fiction. I blame Alanna and Mulan and a million other favorite heroines for this. So Iolanthe disguised as Archer Fairfax, confident, cricket-playing Etonion was the best thing that ever happened to me.
Are Titus and Iolanthe a little too good at everything? Probably But I enjoyed the inventiveness of some of the magic spells, and the Crucible in particular, even though I don't like the use of our realm's fairy tales. It felt like too much. A bit of a hodge podge, really. But I loved Titus and Iolanthe's personalities and chemistry, and that they weren't above deceiving each other.They've got an excellent bantery I-loathe-you-but-obviously-I'll-love-you thing going on. And this book is FUNNY. I love books with senses of humor. They have a dirty conversation about "wands" that is truly delightful, and the breast binding is scene is wonderfully, awkwardly hilarious.
"For... resizing your person," he said as he rehemmed the sheet with another spell.
Oh Titus, you adorable princeling. Let me love you.
So. Was the beginning a tangle of nonsense? Yes. Could the world-building use a bit of tightening? Definitely. Did I shriek and squeal and hug myself while carving Titus + Iolanthe into a tree? HELL YEAH. This ship, it is a good, strong ship, and I am its proud captain. Come sail with me.
"Oh, I am destiny's darling."
*huggles the poor Titus* I would like the sequel sometime now-ish, please. Even sooner, if it's possible.