‘A Shadow Bright and Burning’ by Jessica Cluess

a-shadow-bright-and-burning-cluessAn evocative and exhilarating read, Jessica Cluess’ first novel in her Kingdom on Fire series, A Shadow Bright and Burning is nearly impossible to put down. A young adult fantasy novel that addresses coming of age themes, feminist mentality, and issues inherent in discrimination and exclusion, A Shadow Bright and Burning is a book full of riveting content both on the surface of its plot and in the deeper realms of its layered meanings.

Henrietta Howel is a young orphan who finds that she might be the first female sorcerer in over 100 years, but can she live up to the expectations set for her? Living in Victorian England, Henrietta and her band of soon to be commended sorcerers are doing their best to fend off the seven Ancients, a group of demons released from Hell by a magician some years ago. Magicians after all are all bad: deceitful, evil, uncontrollable. Or are they?

Some people in the book say the same things about women, especially those women with magical powers. Henrietta is thrown into the world of sorcery with no training, and now she has to prove herself not only as a sorcerer, but as the lone female in a male dominated world. Coming up against issues many teenage, non-sorcerer women come up against, like love, lust, and sexuality, Cluess does a fantastic job of painting Henrietta as a strong-willed but conflicted female character.

The quintessential young adult fantasy novel, A Shadow Bright and Burning has all the right elements: an orphaned girl, multiple love interests, and a world in dire need of saving. But Cluess also brings so much more to the Kingdom on Fire series: she brings lessons of acceptance, empowerment, and loyalty.

Slated for released on September 20, 2016 by Random House Books for Young Readers, A Shadow Bright and Burning is available for preorder at your local bookstore.

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FTC Disclaimer: This book was given to me in return for a fair and honest review of the text.

“The Buried Giant” by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Buried Giant by Kazuo IshiguroThe Buried Giant (Knopf )by Kazuo Ishiguro is the author’s most recent success in breaking literary boundaries while creating a story that is entirely enthralling. On the most mundane of levels The Buried Giant topples normative conceptions of genre as it spans the worlds of fantasy despite being very clearly a book of literary fiction. In a recent conversation with Erica Krouse hosted by the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop in Denver, Colorado, Ishiguro addressed this topic by noting that a shift is underway in the literary community, and authors, especially of the younger Harry Potter generation, are becoming less and less tied to traditional conceptions of genre. Ishiguro sees this as a positive shift and noted in the interview with Krouse that he was happy to be contributing to such a movement. He openly admitted, though, that 15 years ago or less he might not have had the gall to choose the setting that he did for The Buried Giant.

The Buried Giant takes place in a post Arthurian Briton that is riddled with ogres, pixies and dragons. The novel follows the adventure of an older married couple Axl and Beatrice as they set out from their home to discover the mysteries of their forgotten past. The couple, though later in their years, is not suffering from Alzheimer’s or some other such disease; rather, there is a collective sense of forgetting that has fallen upon the whole of Briton. This fog, in sense, is what prevents nearly all of Ishiguro’s characters from keeping a hold on even near distant memories.

This shared sense of remembering, Ishiguro noted to Krouse, is at the heart of his latest exploration on the topic of memory. A good portion of Ishiguro’s books relate to memory and how memory affects a person’s understanding of her current situation and serves as the” lens for [her] relationships.” Ishiguro’s previous literary examinations of memory though have always been about the singular recollections of the narrator or main character. As a central theme to his writing, Ishiguro wanted to explore collective memory, especially as it relates to a whole nation, to love, and to the union of marriage. One of the most central themes of the book, one that Beatrice raises again and again, is the question of whether in forgetting the shared memories of two people’s pasts they can still claim to be in love.

Aside from the issues of love and memory, Ishiguro weaves through tales of battle and introduces other rather frightening characters, many of whom remain nameless. The most interesting aspect of these settings and characters is that they could essentially be left behind if Ishiguro had decided to set the book in any other place or time. If the reader were to lift out the themes, threads and issues that the book delves into, it is easy to see that the fantastical setting of The Buried Giant is secondary to the story being told beneath that surface.

This seems to make perfect sense when one considers that the most difficult aspect of writing for Ishiguro is setting, as he stated at the Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop event. He often conceives of an idea for a novel and struggles with where to place that idea in space and time. The flexibility he allows himself and the difficulty he has in coming to a conclusion is perhaps how and why Ishiguro is able to span so many genres with his writing. His previous book Never Let Me Go is a speculative literary fiction novel, while Remains of the Day is a rather romantic tragedy and a comedy of manners. Now, with a fantasy book under his belt, Ishiguro has most definitely traversed a wide range of the literary plain.

The Buried Giant, is by far one of the most engaging and fast paced of Ishiguro’s novels, and despite its 317 page girth, the book is, by experience, readable in a single day.

Purchase The Buried Giant at your local bookstore.

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