Review: The Burning Sky

I received this book for free from YA Books Central in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Burning SkyThe Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
Series: The Elemental Trilogy #1
Published by Balzer + Bray on September 17, 2013
Genres: Adventure, Fantasy, Romance
Pages: 464
Format: ARC
Source: YA Books Central
AmazonThe Book Depository
four-half-stars

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.

First Sentence: “Just before the start of Summer Half, in April 1883, a very minor event took place at Eton College, that venerable and illustrious English public school for boys.”

Review:
In my experience, YA novels written by romance novelists generally go one of two ways: awesomely or atrociously. Now, this may not be the case for most, but, personally, I go to a romance novel and a YA novel for totally different reasons, and I don’t want a romance novel from my YA; romance can (perhaps should) be a part of that, but there should be more going on than that. Thankfully, Sherry Thomas has written an absolutely amazing YA novel, bursting with fabulous characters, action, delightful writing, and a swoon-worthy romance.

Where do I even begin with what I loved when there is so much? Okay, let’s start at the beginning, where we meet our stubborn, hard-working, thoughtful heroine Iolanthe. She’s practicing hard to do the lighting at a wedding ceremony with her elemental magic, all to protect the job of her guardian, though he’s done little to deserve it. Then in he comes, ranting and raving and reminding me of Haymitch (his name is Haywood – coincidence?). He tells her not to perform at the wedding and ruins her light elixir. Consulting a magic text, she learns a thunderbolt (or more accurately lighting bolt) can save her elixir, so she discovers some powers she never knew she had just like that. No big deal. This alerts everyone, both good and bad, to the fact that she is a seriously kick butt elemental mage, and they all want her for something.

Enter Titus: spoiled Prince or hope of the Domain. Because of a prophecy, he knows that he needs this elemental mage to help him save everyone from the tyrannical, apparently immortal ruler of Antlantis. Titus believes in the prophecy and will risk everything, including both of their lives to fulfill it. Though he’s very goal-oriented, I took to Titus immediately with his spell-casting and his weird hobby of reading ladies’ magazines because he finds them comforting.

Now we’re getting to the really good part, namely the one where one of my favorite tropes comes in, and this really isn’t a spoiler I promise, since you will guess it in the tiny prologue. Basically, to hide out from the super terrifying bad guy, Iolanthe has to go undercover at a boys’ school, because Titus, misguided, assumed the mage of prophecy would be a guy, so he had a male’s disguise ready. Oops. Lucky for him, Iolanthe is brilliant and totally rocks at gender bending. Why do I love this so much? Because reasons. That may have to do with the fact that there’s always an adorable lgbt subtext. Like, yeah, Titus is straight, but he’s totally not bothered by all the rumors that he and his friend Fairfax are actually gay lovers, which is a quality I find charming in a guy. Also, it means the heroine isn’t super gorgeous all the time or fretting over her looks, and he likes her none the less for that.

Okay, so, obviously, there’s a romance here, and obviously I love it. They have a total hate to love thing going, which is my favorite. They also, true to that romantic arc at it’s best, excel at bantering with one another. Thomas really makes you feel the chemistry between them, and I was essentially trying to reach into the book and make them kiss all the way through. Even better, the romance doesn’t follow traditional lines, Iolanthe generally being the aggressor physically and Titus the more emotionally committed. In fact, Titus totally spends a lot of time daydreaming and doing the fantasy novel equivalent of doodling her name on his notebooks, and my goodness but it’s precious. Oh, and, even better, he doesn’t mind letting her save him sometimes.

Leaving the romance behind, I also want to praise Sherry Thomas for how powerful women are in The Burning Sky. On both the side of good and of evil, in the past and in the present, women have achieved both high rank and high power. So often, it’s just the heroine who really takes a strong female role, the better to stand out, but the Inquisitor, Helgira, and even Lady Callista are certainly to be feared and admired, in their ways. For once, this is a fantasy world in which everything isn’t intensely patriarchal, even more rare in a historically-based fantasy.

My only quibbles lie in the world building, which is a bit of a pop culture hodge-podge. While this didn’t detract from my enjoyment one bit, it’s a bit to process and might annoy other readers with similarities to other works. For example, I was strongly reminded of Avatar: The Last Airbender, Howl’s Moving Castle, and Stardust (one of the cutest scenes of that movie – and maybe book, but I don’t remember – gender swapped). On top of that, I found the interweaving of our culture’s fairy tales into this fantasy world rather puzzling. I guess this must be an alternate universe then? I’m not quite sure, which is sort of my point. There’s a lot happening and it’s all fun, but I’m left feeling a bit shaky.

The Burning Sky kept me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. If you enjoy the fantasy works of Maria V. Snyder or Kristin Cashore, odds are you will appreciate Sherry Thomas’ YA debut. The sequel cannot come quickly enough. In fact, I loved the romance and themes in here so much, I may even try her romance novels.

Favorite Quote:

“‘Did they believe you? All boys tell such tales about their wands.’
He glanced up, his eyes first blank, then lit with mischief. ‘Maybe they do, but I actually possess a superior wandthe finest of its kind no less. The sort of fireworks my wand can produce will leave any girl breathless.’
They both burst out laughing.”

Don’t Take My Word for It:
Good Books and Good Wine’s word: “it’s a total fricken boss” – 5 stars
Snuggly Oranges’ word: “It hit all the right notes.” – 4.5 stars
A Girl, a Boy and a Blog’s word: “Thomas’ style was very difficult to read.” – 3 stars

24 responses to “Review: The Burning Sky”

  1. Lynn K. says:

    ALL THESE LoK GIFS. I was trying to resist watching the second season, dammit! Ooh, I love genderbend tropes. Really looking forward to this now. (Well, even more than I already did..)

    • Christina Franke says:

      WHY WOULD YOU AVOID THE SECOND SEASON? WHYYYYY? It’s the best ever.

      And, yes, genderbending is my favorite thing ever. It’s just so much fun and adorableness!

  2. Debby says:

    OH MY GOD ALL OF THESE GIFS ARE YOU KIDDING ME??

    Um our reviews are twinsies we are twinsies and this book is faaaaaabulous!!! *hugs it*

    The ladies magazines *snicker* god Titus, I love you.

    AND YOU LINKED TO ME :’)

    I need to get a move on and read Maria V Snyder and Kristin Cashore ^^; errrrrrrrrr

    • Christina Franke says:

      NO I AM NOT. MWAHAHA. Also, did you use LOK gifs? If you did then we’re REALLY twinsies. But I just went through your blog, so I won’t come back around for a while, but I will be there eventually, I promise. I am worth the wait. (This is also what I tell boys, but so far no dice, lol.)

      How freaking adorable is that? Titus has no shame about anything and I want to snuggle him.

      Of course I linked to you!

  3. Amy says:

    I love all the gifs!! I only read like the first two paragraphs of your review because I’m reading this now. I’m only about 5% in but enjoying it already. I am even more excited to continue after seeing your excitement through your post. And OMG 4.5 stars!!! Yay!!!

    • Christina Franke says:

      Thanks! This one just HAD to be a gif review. If they remind me of pop culture, I must needs use gifs! This one is just so absurdly adorable. *hugs it*

  4. meg says:

    I AM SO EXCITED TO READ THIS!

    “with his spell-casting and his weird hobby of reading ladies’ magazines because he finds them comforting.”
    Gender bending! Banter! HE DOODLES HER NAME ON HIS NOTEBOOK!
    I am already in love. Well done.

    And then you say it reminds you of Stardust and Kristin Cashore? The wait is officially killing me *glares at mailbox*

    • meg says:

      Also, fabulous use of gifs. I need to start watching this show.

      • Christina Franke says:

        YOU DO NEED TO WATCH THIS SHOW. It’s bloody brilliant. But you should watch Avatar too if you haven’t!

        It’s definitely not as dark as Cashore, but I think the romance is swoony. It’s like if Cashore decided to be more light-hearted, I guess. Snyder’s a bit closer.

        He doesn’t actually doodle on a notebook, but he has this fantasy world in a book and he makes her a princess in there and visits her. It’s super cute. It COULD be creepy, but it’s not.

  5. Great review. Trying to get my hands on a copy to read as well cause the story really does sound interesting. Thanks for sharing those awesome pics as well 🙂

  6. HA I’m skipping the review because I’m hoping to read this soon but I LOVE THE GIFS. MORE AVATAR GIFS PLS WORLD PLS!!! 😀

    • Christina Franke says:

      Avatar GIFs just had to happen. I mean, you remind me of Avatar, and I’m going to need them. Also, she was having trouble learning air magic, so it had to be LOK!

  7. Elizabeth says:

    Clearly I’m not the only one who came to comment solely because of all the Avatar/LoK gifs hahaahha. So since everyone has already done that for me, I’ll say the book sounds fantastic and I’m adding it to my TBR now!
    Elizabeth recently posted…2. A book or series you wish more people were reading and talking aboutMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Yay! Glad you’re adding the book to your tbr! LOK is basically the best ever, so I don’t mind that you’re here for the gifs. Just watched the first episode of this season last night and GAH the excitement!

  8. Brandy says:

    Yes! Yes to it all. I am definitely going to give her romance novels a go now.

    And I LOVED how Titus and his daydreaming ways. Oh my oh my.
    Brandy recently posted…2013 CybilsMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      For like five years, I could not deal with romance novels, but I think I’m ready again. They can be so much fun.

      His daydreaming was so adorable. I can’t even.

  9. Angie says:

    I am so freaking excited for this book, especially since everyone I trust seems to be reading and loving it.

    I am all over bickery/bantering romances because they are way more entertaining than mushy cutsie ones.

    And any YA novel featuring powerful women is a win in my book. SO YAY.

    AND ALSO WIN TO ANY REVIEW FEATURING LEGEND OF KORRA GIFS.
    Angie recently posted…Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books On My Fall 2013 TBR ListMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      Well, I know a few people who weren’t as big of fans of it. Honestly, I think it comes down to your thoughts on the characters. I really fell for Titus and Iolanthe and shipped them hard, so I was willing to forgive some weaknesses in world building.

      Ugh, mushy romance. Pretty much any time couples say “I love you,” I’m like “UGH COUPLES.” Of course, I have my own hang ups that play into this, but still the arguey banter is so much hotter/cuter.

      So what if many of the powerful women are evil. They’re still badasses!

      WIN TO ME.

  10. I find it interesting that we had such different reactions to this book. However, I think now that I’ve worked through my disgust over the world-building, I’ll feel more like you did the second time I read it. More managed expectations, you know?
    Shae/Shelver @ Shae Has Left The Room recently posted…Wishlist Wednesday #36My Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      For me, it was all about the characters. I can definitely see why you took issues with the world building though. It really is sort of a mish mash of other things. And, based on a couple of bad reviews I saw a while back, my expectations were really low. :-p

  11. This sounds wonderful. I think it’s kind of strange that a romance novelist would try her hand at epic high fantasy, but it sounds out like it worked out very, very well here. I love gender swapping in my fantasies, and that’s awesome that Iolanthe doesn’t seem to merely look like a boy, but takes on more traditionally masculine roles. Romance always seems to be a point of contention with me in my YA books, however I don’t think I’ll mind quite as much here – perhaps this is where Thomas’ experience writing romances will really shine through. I am a fan of Cashore and Snyder’s works, so I can totally see myself enjoying this one. Hopefully soon! Great review, Christina!
    Amanda @ Late Nights with Good Books recently posted…Top Ten Books At The Top Of My Fall 2013 TBR ListMy Profile

    • Christina Franke says:

      It is a bit odd, but I approve of her gumption. Most of the romance authors have just been doing paranormal or contemporary, depending on whether they wrote PNR or contemp, with a little crossover. It’s nice to see an author branch out. I mean, just because she writes romance novels doesn’t mean she can’t be an awesome writer all around. I’m always stoked when I find one who’s legitimately talented.

      I thought the romance here was great, but I know Brandy didn’t really buy into it. I guess it just depends what your tastes are. This had basically all of my favorite tropes. haha.

  12. […] @ Reader of Fictions (with many excellent Avatar Korra gifs, I might add) – 4.5 […]

  13. Annie says:

    I absolutely adored this book for every reason you mentioned. I liked the slow romance and the very well played hate to love and all the banter!

    I liked that the romance wasn’t the central focus and all the action and that it was funny.

    I actually mind the world building though I will agree it was very much a hodge podge. It also felt a little like Harry Potter, but maybe that was just the British flavor and that I’ve been watching a lot of Sherlock lately. But I did like how thoroughly she’d developed the magic in the world. It had rules and boundaries and it all made a lot of sense – you could just tell she’d thought that through.

    I can’t wait for the next book 🙂
    Annie recently posted…Power PlaysMy Profile

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