Jessica Cluess manages to hook the reader on the very first page of “A Shadow Bright and Burning.” That’s not an easy feat — especially when the reader is weary of young adult fantasies with long titles. They all start to sound the same.
But after reading just the first few pages, “A Shadow Bright and Burning” was a difficult book to put down. It’s the story of Henrietta, an orphaned young girl in Victorian England (a magical, alternate Victorian England) who has a magical power — fire. She’s afraid that she’s a witch, and witches are killed in England, so she hides her power.
But she is “outed” when she uses her power to save the life of her best friend when one of the magical ancient monsters — who were unleashed by witches and magicians years before — tries to kill him. Her friend, Rook, is considered “unclean” because he bears the scars from being attacked by one of the monsters. He is one of the few who lived through the attack. The “unclean” are shunned by those untouched by monsters.
Henrietta finds out that she is not a witch, but rather a sorcerer, one of a group of highly respected humans with magical powers. In fact, she is believed to be the woman sorcerer who was prophesied to save the world from the seven ancient monsters.
Yes, the story may sound a bit too fantastic. But the writing, the characters, the descriptions, and the plot all serve to make a wonderful read. The characters are all flawed, including Henrietta. She is hiding a huge secret from her fellow sorcerer students, but so are some of them. In fact, even their esteemed “Master,” or teacher, is hiding a huge secret.
The pages turn quickly and this first installment in the story is over before the reader will want it to be. The ending is perfect, too. Just enough of a conclusion to be satisfying, but also enough mystery to make readers anxious to see the next installment. Lovely debut novel by a talented writer.
Please note: This review is based on the final hardcover book provided by the publisher, Random House Books for Young Readers, for review purposes.