The Burning Sky

You know how I usually say I don't like romance in books?  I mean, it's a general sentiment, but I do make exceptions.

This book--this glorious book--is one of those rare exceptions.

To be fair, it is not entirely a romance.  It is a mind-blowing fantasy, an amazing adventure, and a thoroughly engrossing read.  I slowly made my way through it because I didn't want it to end.

Iolanthe Seabourne is an Elemental mage.  Mages who could command the elements--air, earth, water, and fire--used to be relatively common, but those who could control more than one were less common.  Now, with the rise of more practical forms of magic, elemental magic has become extremely rare.  Iolanthe can control three of the four elements; air escapes her abilities.  Yet, she is still very powerful--she makes fire dance on water as easily as walking or talking.

For a village wedding, Iolanthe has prepared a special elixir, which her once-brilliant, but now drug-addicted guardian alters, rendering it useless.  Desperate, Iolanthe attempts to call down lightning to purify the elixir, having read in a dusty old book that lightning will set a potion to rights again.

And hoo boy, does she call down lightning.  And in doing so, she ensures that the success of a little village wedding is the least of her worries.

Prince Titus observes the lightning strike from his tower window (very Rapunzel, that) and recognizes that the final leg of his life has begun.  Titus' mother was a seer, and had specific visions concerning her son and the safety of the era's next great elemental mage.  Everything would begin with a bolt of lightning.  And so it does.

So what's all the fuss about?  You're probably thinking, "Cool, lightning!  Iolanthe could just zap people!"Ah-ah.  Atlantis is watching.  No, not the mermaid people.  Quick rundown of history: in these Realms, there was a civil war in the magical counterpart of Britain and a despotic cabal of mages, led by the Bane--deathless and all-powerful--seized control of the country, leaving the former government in place as a puppet.  Atlantis is not something you want to mess with: they have killer chariots and mind-warping mages and ... the inquisition!

I had to!  Sorry, not sorry!

Anyway, Titus outmaneuvers Atlantis and manages to grab Iolanthe from the hiding place created by her guardian.  She's outraged that this princely twerp would dare to take her into the human realms, away from those she loves, but she also has no idea the threat she poses to Atlantis.

From here it's a breakneck race to Eton, vaulting (which is basically teleportation, with side effects!) from one safe house to another, eluding embedded agents of Atlantis and disguising Iolanthe as Titus' roommate, Archer Fairfax.

The relationship, then romance, that develops between Iolanthe and Titus is so wonderfully managed by Thomas that it almost took my breath away--in fact, some of the sentences actually did.  I can't say any more about it because it's just too good.

Some readers have criticized Thomas' worldbuilding and magic system--I found them wonderfully interesting and complex.  The scholarly endnotes were the icing on the cake (I adore endnotes or footnotes, by the way.  Unless I have to write them, in which case, no).

There is a lot of meditation on fate and choice in life: is there a predetermined path for us, or can we change it?  Titus believes that every detail of his mother's prophecies will come true, and this means his death.  It also means that Iolanthe will rise to become a great mage.  But what if they want to be together?  What if Iolanthe doesn't want to be a great mage and save the Realm from the Bane?  Are the small desires of the heart more important than the needs of a nation?  Should being born with a power you didn't ask for, or in a position you couldn't control, automatically doom you to misery and death?  Personally, I don't believe in fate, and so I pulled for Iolanthe and Titus to write their own stories, even though the chapters of Titus' mother's diary were stunning and extremely well-constructed.  I would choose obscurity over a glorious destiny any day.

As usual, when I adore a book, you get a rather scattershot review.  So here are the basics:

  • Fantastic magic system and worldbuilding
  • Slow start and non-stop action from there
  • Witty banter
  • Achingly good romance
  • Really menacing villains
  • Magical books that you can go inside
Hello?  Why aren't you running to go get this?  Go get this!


  1. Hmm. I've been avoiding this book but after your glowing review I think I'm going to add it to the TBR.

    1. I know some people thought that it started really slowly, but if you make it through then I think it's really, really good. But you know, Ranganathan and all that :)


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