The Burning Sky is one of those books with a premise and a cover that pretty much had me salivating. It sounded perfect for me. It hit all the right notes. And while I recognized many points on which the book could have been better, this was such an engaging and absorbing read that I loved it all the same.
Let's get the elephant out of the room: the romance. It is... amazing. Irresistible. Addicting. Iolanthe and Titus have a chemistry that drips off the page. It didn't take long at all for me to be head over heels for them. It was just the right kind of development for me: starting off with mild interest, turning to disdain, turning to fervently denying any affections and trying to resist... but it being inevitable and unavoidable. All around though, the slightest mention of any affection between the two main characters had my heart pounding. It was just so beautiful. And then you end up with irresistibly adorable quotes like...
Now he could work her likeness into any story of his choosing.
Now he could fight dragons for her.
And now he could kiss her again. -The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
This leads perfectly into my immense love for the main characters. Iolanthe, the elemental mage of prophecy, gets recruited to go on a quest to save the realm from the Bane, a tyrant mage of Atlantis, by the Prince, Titus. The book actually gets told from the alternating perspectives of Iolanthe and Titus. If you know me at all, you'll know that I'm not typically a fan of alternating perspectives. But, here it wasn't alternating chapters - sometimes they switched multiple times in one chapter, and each switch felt necessary. Not only because you see the two characters gradually falling for each other (which is irresistible, as we have established), but also because they have such different motives and perspectives during their mission. Their voices, in that sense, were also really distinctive. Titus, the prince, is absolutely charming in every way, even though he can act like a prick - and does that as an act to the outside world. But his bravery and dedication run so deep that I absolutely love him. Iolanthe starts off completely frightened by the situation, and then starts resenting Titus (due to spoilery circumstances). Over the story though, she develops and grows in a huge way, and by the end she is so courageous and confident, that it's almost like she's a totally different person. It's character development at its very best.
The plot itself had its ups and downs. The beginning was strong, with Titus coming to rescue Iolanthe and them running to safety while being introduced to the prophecy and the two wonderful main characters. The middle, however, could have been way stronger. While I liked reading more about the characters and the budding romance, the plot had its moments where I was wondering where in the world it was going. However, the end pulled it all together again. It was fast-paced, heart stopping action that I just loved, with magic, dragons, battles, political intrigue, etc. In short, it took a while to get there, but the plot was convincing too.
So while for most of this book I was so overcome by feels that I managed to ignore any prevailing negatives, I do recognize that this book wasn't perfect. Most of my qualms (in fact, all of them) related to the world building. See, young adult high fantasy is hard to accomplish. Younger readers are less tolerant of the long exposition sections typical to high fantasy: the info-dumps that create the world. However, in high fantasy, you're creating a world from scratch, so to be thorough, those info-dumps are almost necessary. The Burning Sky did not contain those info-dump expositions, so younger readers won't be scared off. But, this means the world was a bit underdeveloped for my taste, and I was left with a lot of unanswered questions.
For instance, there are different types of magic: elemental magic, subtle magic, and mind magic. What each type entails and where the boundaries lie remains extremely vague. Also, all throughout the book I was wondering whether the people in the human world knew about the existence of magic or not - because it's never explicitly stated either way. And I was also confused about the intersection between the magic realms and the nonmage realms - are they in the same plane, are they different dimensions, or what? I couldn't figure it out, and as a bit of a world building fanatic, that did bother me. I wanted a map (especially of the capital city in the magic realm) and I just wanted clarity, especially also in some scenes where magic was used and the descriptions were so rushed and vague that I couldn't picture it that well in my imagination. But, as a reader who obsesses over world building, the fact that I managed to ignore this issue so well, due to the overwhelming and beautiful feels, means that the book doesn't suffer so much from this. It's still an absolutely wonderful read. (Here's hoping this is cleared up in the sequel!)
Seriously, this is a favorite. This is a Debby Book™. This beautiful story, and especially the romance, had me flailing around on my bed, seriously stifling sobs and squeals. It struck me in the heart like Cupid's arrow. I will be rereading this so often, and the world building issue is almost negligible at this point. I just love it! I will go crazy for an ARC of the sequel, because I need that in my hands as soon as humanly possible.
People who like FEELS (AKA everyone), and fans of Throne of Glass and Shadow and Bone.
**An electronic ARC was provided by the publisher via Edelweiss for an honest review. Thank you!