You might have seen these fantasy themes before: An overpopulated community stuck within the confines of a certain set of boundaries due to the threat of a plague which has destroyed the outside world with the home-bound population being controlled by magic and death/execution – a common occurrence meant to keep everyone in line. In Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta, that’s not enough, the King requires an obedience bond between himself and his subjects, administered when they become “adults”. Thus our rebels are teenagers who know there is something out there worth risking everything, even their lives, to discover.
Of course, each has their own motivations. Faris Locke originally wanted a better life than one of eking out an existence in the Brim, a slum like community, but now she is forced to fight her way to the prize to save her sister from being used as a drone at the workhouse. Princess Bryn is determined to be Queen of Brindaigel, so she magically binds Feris to her as a servant to not only protect, but to serve as a virtual “whipping boy” who absorbs any pain the princess experiences (even if maliciously self-inflicted). Upon entering the forbidden Avinea they immediately get captured, but are rescued by North, a nomadic magician who wants to free his beloved homeland from the deadly sickness which is creeping throughout the kingdom.
I’m thinking this book should be included under the Steampunk Category. This is a YA fantasy novel full of intrigue, violence, greed/self interests, and a bit of romance, all entangled with the power of magic which can both protect and destroy. While the premise has a few twists using this common theme, the concept is muddled enough to require a bit of an explanation instead of simply leaking details on the fly as the plot unfolds. After a few attempts, I gave up trying to make sense of events by rereading passages which leave out the clues necessary to provide any cohesiveness. While the characters are intriguing, there are so many secrets and scams, it is easy to get confused about their motivations. These young people all have complicated relationships with their parents, most of whom are out of the picture for one reason or another, but who influence their actions, which makes discovering who’s who and what’s what requiring the skills of a detective.
However, the book is readable if unpredictable (for various reasons), just don’t expect a definitive conclusion as the ending is a cliff hanger leading to book 2 of the series. Three stars.
A thank you to Netgalley for providing this ARC in exchange for an honest review.