Meet Henrietta Howel. She's a young girl who has enough expertise in science and mathematics to be a teacher. She's also known for a long time she was kind of different. Maybe even a little hotter. Literally. Kind of like Ruby from Frostblood, she has a thing with fire and setting herself ablaze. But an encounter with an eyeless sorcerer on a big black horse causes her to have to use her ability to save the best friend she ever had, Rook. After it is witnessed by her mentor, Agrippa, the three of them are sent away from their home valley (Henrietta's kind of okay with getting away from her boss, Colegrind) into a London with a special barrier that protects it from monsters, most notably the demon of clouds and darkness, Korozoth, or the skinless man, R'helm, or all sorts of others like ravens and the eyeless beasts. What's the excuse? There was a prophecy that the descendant of a sorcerer would be the one to stop these creatures. The thing is, none of the sorcerers that have ever existed were female or at least not one for about 500 years. As a result, Henrietta has to go to the castle owned by a man named Blackhook and their team of sorcerers to get her ready for a supposed coronation to Queen Victoria, while Henrietta struggles to keep Rook in safe hands.
Ever since Harry Potter and The Hunger Games each sparked their own brand of YA, fantasy novels mainly seem to have an algorithm of special training. Some of them don't, but sometimes that can mean the character is automatically a badass. That can be less effective. It depends, really. This is one of those books that begins with special training to get out into the world, so can it stand on its own in getting us invested in this world by taking us out of the classroom? You bet.
My synopsis of this book from before was a little more detailed than some others I've written. I try to make every book I read have a fair description to let you decide if it's your type (even if I sometimes sneak something in), while still making sure I keep the book fresh by not going too in-depth. Well, A Shadow Bright and Burning is no one-trick flame.
At first I was a little worried it was going to copy off Avatar: The Last Airbender. You see, apparently sorcerers can only manipulate the four elements. They can do loads with them, including making mirrors showing other places with water. And it's when the book comes up with inventive ways to use this idea and doesn't limit its magic to that when I forgave that similarity. Let's face it. Avatar: The Last Airbender is a perfect cartoon that single-handedly stapled element manipulation as its humble forever servant.
These characters also grow on us. The castle ends up filled with sorcerers to instruct Henrietta: Dee, Agrippa of course, Blackwood, Palehook, Genii, Magnus, Lambe, Wolff, and even an old chap named Hargrove who works in the slums. At first there's not anything enormous to remember some of these cast members but as training goes on, we learn to like and loathe them individually, which is more than I can say for some fantasy series out there. The society feels realistic too, touching on matters of sexism and even religion that reminded me of how I imagined some would've reacted if Hillary Clinton won the last-year election. This universe doesn't understand female sorcery, and it doesn't understand these certain sorcerers outside of the box with enough original tricks up their sleeves that we understand why they're like the "lower class" of this world, the one that's expected to do all the murders and rapes. The book also does a splendid job of bringing this home when all of a sudden these good guys are in a big fort but are not really safe.
I also really cared about Rook. He's immediately a sympathetic character when all he wants is to stay with Henrietta, because he's her best friend, not because he wants to get in bed with her. (I'm still choking on the Fifty Shades Darker fumes.) And everyone sees having him as a bad idea, an inconvenience, perhaps even a curse. The book has a climax where I really really thought Jessica Cluess was going to rip out my heart. And for that matter, some of these teachers are at first ridiculously savage, but we grow to like them (a little). Not a lot of YA books I've read do that. I closed the book wondering if there was anything just...not good. Can't think of anything so far.
I was reading this book while my Aunt Meg was still in the hospital, and because I loved this book so much, I might remember Meg as a shadow bright and burning. The title seems so fittingly spiritual.