October 15, 2013

Review: The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

The Burning Sky (The Burning Sky #1)
Author: Sherry Thomas
Release Date: September 17th, 2013
Publisher: Balzer + Bray
Page Count: 464
Source: ARC from BEA
Rating: Started off strong but kind of petered out for me towards the end. So: Eh.
It all began with a ruined elixir and an accidental bolt of lightning...

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.

[Summary Source: Goodreads]

So there's this girl, Iolanthe, who's an elemental mage. But she doesn't think she's super powerful or anything until, one day, she summons lightning her entire life comes down around her. All of the sudden she finds herself in league with the crown prince, disguised as a boy and in a different universe. Now Iolanthe spends her time hiding from the Bane and trying to help the prince, Titus, fulfill his purpose as it was predicted by his now-dead mother - even though she was more tricked into helping than anything else.

Let's break this down:

I think it's important for me to note right off the bat that I really liked the world building in this one. I don't know why but from minute one, I understood it. Multiple universes, warring government entities, elemental magic, other kinds of magic... I didn't have any trouble understanding. But that's probably because I tend to take world building on face value at the beginning of a new fantasy series. I don't want an info dump, so patience is key here. 

What I did have trouble understanding is the Bane. So he's the villain, but what does he want? Unlimited power and control? World domination? I mean, all of that is pretty basic, but all we know by the end of this book is that we're supposed to be afraid of him, he's somehow using powerful elementals to stay alive and he can't die. But as a whole I'm not entirely sure what Atlantis as a whole wants. Nor to I understand how the friction between the monarchy and Atlantis came about. Or why. I just know it's there. It's all very confusing and I just don't understand why anything in this book has to happen at all. 

I also felt like there was a lack of action in this book. Iolanthe and Titus bounce back and force between realms, face a couple close calls, train and talk a lot, but it's not until the last two or three chapters that things really begin to pick up. I was kind of afraid things weren't going to pick up. That'd be like a whole book of set up for a (three book?) series. I can take 100 pages of set up, but 450? Pass. 

And then there's the romance. I dunno if I buy it. Or, well, I think I did at the beginning but then it felt like he was trying too hard to love her and she was fighting her impulse to be into him and it felt a little forced to me. But I mostly ignored the silly back and forth throughout the book and stuck with the initial romantic intrigue from the beginning of the book. 

My final issue with this book is that I felt like Titus and Iolanthe were conveniently good at everything they needed to be good at. Which was frustrating. It wasn't like I wanted them to fail, it just got tiring that Titus was good at every aspect of tailoring magic and Iolanthe could flawless act as a boy without looking even the slightest bit ruffled. Maybe we didn't need so much commentary on all of the things they were brilliant at? I don't know. 

Okay. Now that it sounds like I really hated this book, I should mention that I didn't. I loved the back and forth between Iolanthe and Titus. They're definitely a couple worth watching. Probably some epic love coming for the two of them, if I'm allowed to get my predictions in. 

The prose was 100 percent engaging and really kept me going even when I could and should have been doing other things. The POV shifts were also pretty seamless. One second we'd be in Iolanthe's head and the next in Titus's. Sometimes this can feel choppy, but for some reason it really worked in this book. And aside from really working, it made me feel like I really understood where both characters were coming from. 

I also really like this virtual training world and the different rooms with the history lessons. It gives great depth and better insight into Iolanthe and Titus's world. Which, again, is important in a fantasy novel and totally allowed to happen at a slower clip than in most other genres. 

The last thing about this book that I find interesting (in a very good way) is the philosophical question posed on the topic of prophecies and fate. Did you see it happen and then you made it happen that way or did you see it happen and then it all just happened, against your will? This is a particularly interesting question when you consider how Titus's mother died. Fate vs. Free Will really is one of those big ticket debates and I really do like how this book handles it. 

Ultimately, I think I like the structure of this story (villain motivations aside, that is). It's the particulars I'm not so clear on. I'm not totally sure I'm going to continue on with this series, but I feel like, maybe if I do, I'll get a better idea of what's going on. (I hope!)

The long and short of it?

Plot: Interesting, but I'm not totally clear on the specifics.
World Building: Aside from the villainous motivations, I love every bit of it. It's kind of a mish-mash of a lot of familiar ideas that really work well together.
Character Development: Iolanthe begins to understand the bigger picture and Titus realizes that his fate isn't set in stone and that Iolanthe is more of a partner than anything else. So. Lots of development.
Prose: So very readable and fairly addicting.
Would I Recommend This Book?: It's not my favorite fantasy read - there are a lot of others I'd recommend before this one. But if you're interested in starting a new fantasy series that could potentially become just a little bit steamy (Sherry Thomas is originally a romance writer), this might just be the one for you!

So tell me, did you have the same conflicting thoughts on this one? Different conflicting thoughts? Maybe you just loved it and think I'm crazy. However you felt, be sure to speak up in the comments below!