The Burning Sky (The Elemental Trilogy, book one)
By Sherry Thomas
Expected publication September 17, 2013 by Balzer + Bray
While life is no picnic for Iolanthe, she makes it work. Then, in an unbelievable turn of events, she is being told that she's the greatest elemental mage of her generation - and she must run for her life. She finds herself bound to the prince, a bit of a cad who attends school in the nonmage world - and he expects Iolanthe to remain by his side. Can she pass at an all-boys academy? And, more importantly, can she harness her power and take on the Bane?
I requested the egalley of this because it was hard to resist - high fantasy and cross-dressing, romance and a villain called the Bane. Let's face it, I'm a sucker for high fantasy. As with most genre novels, this book plays off some well-loved tropes: the girl who doesn't realize her power until she is shown by someone else, a prophecy, and a seemingly indestructible villain. I'm a firm believer that tropes are tropes for a reason - readers like them and they like seeing these same elements and what an author can do with them. For this book, I think Thomas does a pretty good job with the tropes. While Iolanthe knows she is a pretty powerful mage, she doesn't know the full extent of her power until Prince Titus fills her in. Similarly, she doesn't know about the prophecies that appear to dictate her destiny until she's already on the run with Titus. One of the things I loved most about Harry Potter is the prophecy and how clever J.K. Rowling was by showing how easily it could have applied to two different boys. There comes a point in this book where something similar occurs and it thrilled me to no end. I love the exploration of how a prophecy will affect your ability to live your life now - a discussion that Iolanthe and Titus have in this book. I liked the hint that maybe it wasn't supposed to be Iolanthe after all, though it seemed too late for this to make a difference. Where I think Thomas fell down a bit was in her depiction of the villain. I get that the Bane is supposed to be an awful bad guy that resurrects himself every time he is killed. However, in this book, Thomas has made the Inquisitor the much more fearsome villain. As this is only the first book in a trilogy, I imagine that Thomas will give the Bane significantly more page time as the series progresses, as I'm sure this won't be the pair's last encounter with him.
Cross-dressing is another one of my favorite tropes and I think it's done well here. I liked that it came about because of a misread prophecy (well, actually a mis-seen vision), but it helps fuel the banter between Iolanthe and Titus. While I liked Iolanthe, I found Titus to be the more compelling character and was eager to know more of his story. I really enjoyed the relationship between the two, though the romance seemed a foregone conclusion nearly from the beginning of the book. Though I found the ending a bit of a let-down, I imagine I'll be staying tuned for book two.
One final note: I love reading fantasy novels but I hate it when I can't figure out how to pronounce a name (just like when I first read "Hermione"). Anyone want to clue me in on how to pronounce "Iolanthe"?
Thanks to the publisher for a digital advance reader's copy, provided via Edelweiss.