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.
Released: September 17th 2013 Pages: 464
Publisher: Balzer + Bray Source: Library
First Look: ***** I had heard mixed reviews about this one, but it looked interesting. Besides, the cover was cool, so I figured, why not?
Setting: ***** The setting is a mess. The story starts out in a standard medieval-style town, but then throws you almost immediately through some sort of portal, into a nineteenth-century boys' boarding school in England. I don't have a problem with this, in itself, but it's poorly handled. This connection to the real world is never mentioned until after it happens. Why are the two connected, anyway? How does it even work? None of this is ever explained, and I was just left to try and make some sense out of it on my own.
I soon realized that this is not worth the effort, since the magic system that book revolves around also makes no sense. There are seemingly no consequences to this magic. The cardinal rule of building a magic system is that everything has to come at a price. For example, in Eragon (and many other fantasy novels), magic takes a physical toll on the user, sapping their energy with each spell. The price in Harry Potter is less clear, but the magic is limited by the skill and knowledge of the user. In The Burning Sky, Iolanthe has all these powers, but can use them without cost whenever the plot requires it. The entire concept of elemental powers is never fully explained, either. I'm still not even sure what it means to have an elemental power, how spells are cast (are they?), or how wands factor into it.
Characters: ***** Iolanthe goes along too easily with everything. Climb into a portal chest and get sucked into Victorian London? Sure, why not? And then she adjusts flawlessly to living in an entirely unfamiliar place. She's a Mary Sue, excelling at every single thing she does. She has ultra-strong powers, not to mention becoming instantly popular wherever she goes and becoming an instant cricket prodigy despite the fact that she doesn't even know the rules of the game. None of this made her a believable character. The more I read, the more I grew annoyed with her.
Titus has more depth. He's more flawed and relatable, which makes him seem more real. Even though he is manipulative at the beginning, I came to care about him. I might've liked the whole book better if the focus had just been on him. Other characters are flat and uninteresting. I wish the main antagonist, the Inquisitor, was more than the Designated Villain. This book couldn't stop reminding me how evil she was, but why? People don't turn into villains for no reason, and I didn't even have that much evidence that she is a villain at all.
Plot: ***** Titus's main goal is to kill the Bane. Who/what exactly is the Bane, and why does he need to be killed? Apparently that isn't important to the plot or anything. All we need to know is that he's bad news.
And yet, even though this is what Titus wants, he does surprisingly little to move toward that goal. Instead, the plot focuses on his and Iolanthe's life at the boarding school. They go back and forth between worlds and try to evade the Inquisitor, but they still hardly accomplish anything. Later, when a romance develops between Iolanthe and Titus, the focus shifts there. It's not insta-love, but it still comes out of nowhere and feels forced. Other reviewers have praised the book for this relationship, but I found it tiring and unnecessary.
Also, the Bane. Bane. Bane.
Writing: ***** The split point of view is confusing. It starts out with a third-person POV that focuses on Iolanthe, and if I remember correctly, doesn't even mention Titus for a few chapters. Then, suddenly, the POVs alternate every chapter. Except then, they don't, and sections switch off randomly in the same chapter. There is no difference whatsoever in the narrative style of each POV, so it was a constant struggle to keep up with which character the focus was on.
The writing style itself is strangely simplistic, and would fit better in a middle grade fantasy than a young adult. I have nothing against this type of writing, in itself, but it just didn't seem to fit the book.
Not-so-great: I decided to look up what other books this author has written, and:
Overall: This had the potential to be an exciting, unique high fantasy novel, but it just doesn't work. The setting makes no sense, and the magic system even less so. The main female character is a Mary Sue. The main male character is more interesting, but the weird POV switches kept me from getting to know him better. The villains are evil for no good reason. I'll pass on the sequel.