Book Review

The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas

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Title: The Burning Sky
Author: Sherry Thomas
Publication Info: Balzar+Bray September 2013
ISBN: 78-0062207296
Genre: Science Fiction/Fantasy

Book The Burning Sky The Burning Sky is Sherry Thomas’ first fantasy YA and it’s not terrible, but it’s not great either.  It’s strangely boring.

The Burning Sky starts off great – it tells us that a boy named Archer returned to Eton after being sent home to recover from a broken limb.  It then goes on to say,

Almost every word in the preceding sentence is false.  Archer Fairfax had not suffered a broken limb.  He had never before set foot in Eton. His name was not Archer Fairfax.  And he was not, in fact, even a he.

Well, you have my attention!  Seriously, I loved this intro.  It was gripping, economical storytelling that posed a puzzle and made me curious, and it promised a certain feminist quality to the story.  Count me in.

Then we get into the story itself and I can’t describe it properly because the reader is never clued in to what is going on (and not in a good, ‘I’m confusing you as a stylistic choice’ kind of way).  Basically Iolanthe (the girl who ends up in disguise as Archer Fairfax) is super powerful, so this evil-power-behind-the-throne person is after her, and the prince who actually is on the throne is trying to defeat the evil person (The Inquisitor) and some other even-eviler being (The Bane), and he saves Iolanthe and has her go into hiding in disguise as a boy at Eton, where the prince goes to school.  And he teaches her to use her powers, and they fall in love, but it’s been prophesied that he’ll die soon, so there is angst.

There’s not a lot of context so we don’t know why the Inquisitor is in power, or why it’s so great for the prince to stay in power, not that he has any.  He is a figurehead.  Also, at some point the story must have explained who or what the Bane is but I must have dozed off.  He’s really bad.  I got that.  And there’s a battle by the end but by then I was so apathetic that I sort of skimmed it.  Stuff happened, there was romance, and the book ended conclusively while also leading towards the next book.

I think the problem here is mostly one of pacing.  Sherry Thomas structures the book like a romance novel, but where her Regency novels are character driven without much plot or world-building to speak of, this book is all plot, and hasn’t worked out how to make us do things like understand the world and its history, or why we should care about the characters while all this plot is happening. 

As is typical in a romance novel, the narration shifts from Iolanthe to Titus.  It’s useful to get both of their points of view, but the shifts happen so quickly that we get very little sense of who the characters are or what’s going on around them.  The shifts happen every other chapter and the chapters are short. I didn’t understand any of the context that the story depends on – not the politics, or the world, or the magic.  And every time I thought I might be invested in what was happening the viewpoint changed again, often leaping to a completely different scene.

There’s lots going on in this book – action, quiet moments, intrigue – the works.  But I didn’t care about any of it.  Sure Iolanthe and Titus both seem like great people but I just didn’t know them well enough to be invested in their lives.  I didn’t care about their romance.  If anything, the whole thing made me uncomfortable because of Iolanthe’s dependence on Titus.  I didn’t understand the world well enough to care about the politics.  What do I care whether Titus stays on the throne?

In the past, Sherry Thomas has had a gift for making me care deeply about characters who are, in many ways, unsympathetic.  She has also caused me to be heavily invested in plot lines that are based on tropes I dislike.  But even though I love the fantasy genre, and even though Sherry Thomas is still an excellent descriptive writer, this book left me not caring much at all.  And that was disappointing.  With any other author this would have been a DNF, but I’m so invested in the author that I stuck it out.  I won’t be reading the next book unless I hear glowing reports of improvement.  But I will be reading her next Regency Romance and hoping for great things.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    Barb in Maryland says:

    Oh CarrieS!! it is really sad for me to see another not-so-glowing review of this book.  Sigh.  It won’t stop me from reading it…but I’ve found that your taste and mine really are quite similar.  More heavy sighs!

    Can’t wait for her next historical—which, by the way, is Victorian (not Regency) and features as the main man a character that has appeared in several of her earlier books.
    Sounds yummy!!

  2. 2
    kkw says:

    I kind of hate YA. I really hate that Sherry Thomas is writing it. Why isn’t she writing me perfect awesome game changing lovely romance novels? Yeah, she writes them for me. You didn’t know that? She doesn’t know that. Doesn’t matter. Still true.

    When I control the universe, I promise you ladies, this shit will stop.

  3. 3
    peggy h says:

    Sigh sigh sigh.  This book is in my reader, and I’m saving it (as I do all my Sherry Thomas books) for when I can read undisturbed.  But this is yet another so-so review I’ve seen, which frankly will not stop me from reading it, but makes me less excited.  (Glad I bought it last month when I could use the 50% coupon in Kobo for any book!)

  4. 4
    CarrieS says:

    I like Sherry Thomas, I like YA, and I like fantasy – so I was so dissappointed that this book didn’t work for me.  I had a hard time articulating it.  Actually it was easy to articulate my problem, it was just hard to stretch “I was given no reason to care about the world, the plot, or the characters, so I got bored” into a full-length review.  And I’m so embarrassed!  Of COURSE Thomas writes Victorian – that’s a major reason why I love her!

    Although I said I won’t read her next fantasy book, I’m sure I will – this book had “learning curve” written all over it and I hope for improvement.

  5. 5
    Mims says:

    I liked it.  Sometimes it’s hard to buy the romance in YA books, but Sherry Thomas always sells the romance in her books and I bought it in this one.  The magic system was a little confusing, especially the thing with the portals at the end.  I’ve noticed that the YA books that I’ve been reading recently have multiple points of view (which I hate), but two povs are manageable.  I also liked that while this is a trilogy, it didn’t end on a cliff hanger.

  6. 6
    Kate K.F. says:

    I recently read an ARC of a YA sci-fi novel that was written by a romance author that took advantage of the POV switching and made me care. I recommend it, its called Alienated by Mellissa Landers, I believe her romance name is Mary Bennet but I’m not sure. It worked as it took the trope of exchange students and added aliens and politics, the world building was well done and I cared all the way through. I’m sorry this was such a disappointment as good YA is a wonderful find.

  7. 7
    Ashley says:

    I typically love Sherry Thomas novels and I’ve been feeling a bit guilty for not loving this one. It’s good to hear that I’m not the only one having issues with Burning Sky. I got about half way through and moved on to another book. I may come back but, not any time soon.

  8. 8
    Nan says:

    Absolutely loved the cover design. Sad read this review. Will have to try another Sherry Thomas novel then. Any recommendations?

  9. 9
    SB Sarah says:

    @Nan: I loved “His at Night” (http://amzn.to/RLLsPP) which was a book club pick years ago. Thomas writes wonderfully, both in the sense that her books are very emotional, and that the language she uses is fascinating, too. I hope you’ll try one. “His at Night” is currently $3.79 at Amazon, which is a terrific price if you shop there.

  10. 10
    beth says:

    Sherry Thomas is hands down one of my favorite writers, and my all-time favorite romance author. the day she doesn’t get me to fall in love with her characters as they fall in love themselves finally came.  I didn’t love the burning sky. In fact, I was ho hum about it, which I didn’t think could be possibly when talking about a Sherry Thomas book.

    I’ll read the next one because it’s Sherry Thomas, and I can’t NOT, but I won’t have as high of hopes next time.

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