This book was unique and exciting, but there was something missing that kept it from being all-out amazing.
Iolanthe Seabourne is the greatest elemental mage of her generation—or so she’s been 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 most powerful tyrant and mage the world has ever known. This would be a suicide task for anyone, let alone a reluctant sixteen-year-old girl with no training.
Guided by his mother’s visions and committed to avenging his family, Prince Titus has sworn to protect Iolanthe even as he prepares her for their battle with the Bane. But he 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 tyrant closing in, Titus must choose between his mission—and her life.
Let me just say off the bat that the plot summary does a horrible job of explaining what happens in this book, mainly because it is a really complex book with lots of subplots and even more world-building and it is hard to decide where spoilers begin for a story like this. I’m trying to give you guys a sense of the book and its strengths and weaknesses without spoilers, but I have to gloss over big parts of the plot.
This book surprised me. The fantasy elements were done well and with a unique fairytale spin. Both Titus and Iolanthe could work magic, but their powers were different in what they could do with their powers. I liked this part of the plot–Titus ended up actually seeming like he was a better magician than the great mage Iolanthe, which complicated their relationship, giving Titus some power and testing Iolanthe’s character. However, the reason behind the differences–though it was explained–never made sense to me. The explanations happened too early on in the book, before we had been introduced to either type of magic, and when the types of magic actually tried to fight each other, I was left confused, trying to remember vague explanations that I had glossed over, assuming they would be explained better when I actually needed the information. It wasn’t bad world-building, but it was somewhat sloppy, and if it had been explained at a more opportune time, I could have spent less of the book being confused and more of it loving the world Thomas had created.
The setting–though it is more fair to say the settings, because the book takes place across three “realms”–is believable, complex, and overall bolsters the story’s strengths. Some of the book takes place in the magical part of Earth, and some of it takes place in non-magical England. I liked the power dynamic of the magical world: Titus is technically the ruler of the Domain (though he has a regent), but a foreign group of manipulators (Atlantis) has basically taken over the country, robbing Titus of any real power. Titus’s frustration and righteous need to take back his kingdom was understandable and characterized him well. With the addition of failed uprisings connected to his mother (who then died for the cause), and his duty to keep Iolanthe safe, Titus ended up with a complex and interesting character. He was more than a love interest, which I really appreciated, especially when the romance of the book was a little cliche.
The plot line that takes place in non-magical England bothered me. It involves an all-boys school and struck me as unrealistic, to say the least. (I am being purposefully vague to avoid spoilers, by the way.) I liked the friendships Iolanthe developed and how it strained her relationship with Titus, but overall it was too disconnected from the rest of the book and from the strong sense of believability that dominated the other two settings and their plotlines.
The rest of the book takes place in a fairytale realm called the Crucible, which is not actually reality and that Titus uses to train Iolanthe for her confrontation with the land’s magical tyrant, the Bane. This was an amazing idea, and the execution was overall great, but sometimes the descriptions of the setting would be confusingly worded. Also, the physics of the Crucible seemed a little far-fetched (especially near the end when the author changed all the rules), and it felt like Thomas was just coming up with rules that suited what he wanted to happen in the plot, whether or not those fit with the rules he had outlined at the beginning. Still, the scenes in the Crucible were by far my favorites to read; they made the rest of the plot lines almost feel like they were getting in the way of the story I wanted to read, when really the Crucible plot should have been the least important plot line.
Iolanthe (why does her name have to be so complicated to type???) was a strong protagonist. She had a simple life before Titus crashed into it, claiming she is destined to be the greatest mage of the time and to take down the invincible Bane. She wanted to hold onto her simple life; she refused to sacrifice her life on a suicide mission against a tyrant who she didn’t actually hate. Her character had just enough ego and doubt–they played off each other to keep her honest and opened her up to the reader.
The plot of this book is fast-paced and dramatic. The beginning was slow for me–there was a lot of world-building a little to early–but once the plot really started, I was hooked. I can’t say that the plot was anything super unique or complex, but with the world and the magic it was based in, it still ended up feeling special.
From the romance I draw my one clear complaint with the book: there is Instalove. Or, not really instalove, more like insta-attraction. They aren’t in love with each other from page one, but as soon as they meet, large portions of each scene are focused on the characters thinking about each other in romantically interested ways. It came off as heavy-handed for me, which was a shame, because once the plot developed further and their relationship grew more complex, the romance that they shared ended up being really sweet and realistic. However, the insta-attraction at the beginning lessened the quality of the writing and almost made me put it down.
I would recommend this book to fans of YA fantasy who want a well-done, unique novel that strays off the beaten path with complex characters and interesting power struggles. I would also say that being a forgiving reader would help, so that you can see past the technical issues I had with The Burning Sky to enjoy the amazing story it contains.