The Burning Sky by Sherry Thomas
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
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.
When I first picked up an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) of The Burning Sky at BEA 2013, I did not realize what I had in my hands: in short, this is one of my top books for 2013. With a fully realized fantasy world, conflict at every turn, an incredible cast of YA characters, and an unbelievable pace, this story is one of those books that will keep you up at night!
If that endorsement doesn't sway you, I enter into evidence this simple fact: as soon as I finished reading the ARC, I read it a second time and annotated it, then sent it to my CPs for a book chain. This is the first time I've been inspired to do so with an ARC. I may have also freaked out on twitter. For an hour. But enough gushing, let me tell you WHY I loved this book.
The world-building in this story is incredible. Magic operates on many levels in this mage world, from simpler small magic through (gorgeous) spells to incredible feats of elemental power. However, the mages can also spend time in the non-mage, world. In fact, they can leap back and forth within worlds--which Sherry Thomas terms vaulting--as well as portal-hop between worlds, a magical feat that allows the story to operate at multiple levels.
When we first meet Iolanthe, her world has been quite small, just a tiny portion of the mage world. And yet, as her powers come to fruition and she becomes entangled with Prince Titus, the world opens up for our heroine--there are dark forces after her newfound powers, and her life is in danger. She enters the non-mage world for the first time with Titus, hiding in plain sight as a boy at his boarding school. Titus seems to have been preparing for her arrival a very long time, although his motives in helping her are also unclear. Soon Iolanthe is tangled in a political and personal struggle for power that spans both worlds and touches many lives. Conflict abounds. Relationships develop. And just when you think you've got things figured out, Thomas deftly shakes the globe, spinning the story out in exciting new dimensions.
The opening chapters dive right into this world in great depth, so give yourself time to acclimate to the new terms and rules, and the dual third person POVs. Once you're a few chapters in, you won't be able to stop reading. The dialogue between Iolanthe and Titus zings. The action is non-stop. And the levels of story are imaginative and surprising . . . all of which will keep you turning the pages long past bedtime.
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