by Joshua Khan
When last we saw the young and gothic Queen Lilith Shadow and her outlaw best friend Thorn, they were doing their best to protect the country of Gehenna from a lethal army of trolls, all while attempting to control the droves of undead that were insistent upon rejoining society (falling off limbs, and all). Scorned by her subjects for doing the unthinkable – being a female who wove her own magic – Lily had an exhausting season. One problem on top of another, ending with dramatically solved mysteries resulting in a few very surprising and devastating consequences. The least of which was her Uncle Pan.
Lily is in desperate need of a change of scenery while she settles into her new circumstances and attempts (again) to solidify herself as Queen of Gehenna. What better way to shake things up than an epic journey across the seas to the Sultanate of Fire – a place that is about as far away from Castle Gloom and its monotony as she can get. The desert empire is home to one of her best friends, the fire-wielding and charmingly adorable K’leef. Once one of her potential marital suitors, K’leef has transitioned into the role of doting confidante, taking the pressure off of his and Lily’s relationship and allowing things to grow stronger between them organically. It’s a situation that suits the young queen, especially as the relationship between she and Thorn is so volatile and complicated. Anxious to put bad times behind her and create some long-lasting memories full of bright fun and shiny new experiences, Lily descends the ship after months at sea and steps into the land of sand and fire-magic.
But instead of easily sliding into a beautiful reunion with their old friend, Lily and her companion Thorn find themselves stepping instead into a veritable pit full of sand vipers. With the death of their ruler leaving an absence on the throne, K’leef’s family has begun rallying around one of their own to take up the place as the new Sultan – on the surface. Beneath the facade of bonded family and unfaltering loyalty, dissension in the ranks is brewing thicker than a potion in an old witch’s well-seasoned cauldron. No matter how careful and diplomatic Lily tries to be with her footing, she continues to land herself in hotter water than she ever imagined possible, and she’s having a lot of trouble figuring out how to navigate herself to fairer seas.
And then the unspeakable happens – a shocking murder. When the gentle sibling making the accession to the throne is violently killed by a cleverly wielded bit of magic, K’leef’s family helplessly watches as the Sultanate is thrown into chaos and terror. As K’leef is forced into making some hard decisions about who will (and who should) settle on the throne, he finds himself sent out on a quest of epic proportions – one laced and threaded with the promise of sheer doom. With unlikely allies Thorn and Gabriel Solar at his side, the young man is sure to either succeed spectacularly . . . or to fail with devastating consequences. The contentious three are on the hunt for a phoenix, a revered bird that only resides in the treacherous Shardlands, a place wrought with hidden dangers and vicious beasts alike. With deceit and deception at every turn, K’Leef has no idea if he will leave the nightmarish Shardlands with his life intact, let alone in possession of the legendary firebird that will bring order and balance to his beloved household and land of his people.
Left behind at the family castle in the Sultanate to investigate the murder, Lily is dealing with her own worries and dangers behind the scenes. Her magic is changing into something she can barely control, and she has no where to turn for answers to her myriad of questions. With every almond-shaped eye upon her in this foreign place, Lily must maintain an air of rigidity and stability, but she’s beginning to crack. When she finds herself betrayed by someone she once thought a friend, Lily’s need of unraveling her magical mysteries become dire. Will she be able to regain her foothold as the Queen of Shadows without crossing that line into terrible and terrifying? Or will her life become forfeit to a cunning master of deceit?
I have been on pins and needles waiting for the third installment of Joshua Khan’s Shadow Magic series. The first two were spellbinding and indeed so magical that I had no trouble devouring them within hours of bringing them home. An engaging cast of versatile and empowering characters, mystical and endearing settings all over the map, gritty and dark humor laced with just the tiniest of romantic intrigue – I have been hooked since that first page of Dream Magic. Khan is a master at weaving a world that is relatable to a variety of ages; spinning his own web of originality with a cunning and cleverness that is becoming rare in the fantasy world. The flaws in each character work to humanize them in a way that brings the reader closer onto their stage and story, and its done so effortlessly that turning the pages requires no degree of work – it is instead, a pleasure.
It is a difficult task sometimes, to engage the mid-grade reader. That particular generation seems very caught up in the right here – right now aspect of living, and books just simply “take too long to get to the point” (as is my own personal experiences). With classics like Harry Potter and Narnia becoming dusty on shelves as a DVD is popped into the player, this age bracket tends to take the easy way out. But there are a few books that move so quickly as to retain the attention of the reader, all while making the young reader feel as though they are witnessing something that lies just on the cusp of dangerous territory, thus making it all the more desirable – this series is one of those set of novels. The setting is dark and gloomy, as the name of the castle intones, and the overall theme of death is drawn in both a literal and humorous sense. Real issues are tackled with an abundance of realism and emotional weight, checking off so many of my personal requirements for a meaty and complete fantasy novel. And there are plenty of zombies.
I can’t give Burning Magic more than 5 stars, but in my opinion, it deserves every star in the sky. I have been so enamored with this series, and I was devastated to read the ending – not because it was bad, but because it was over. I am holding out hope for more books in the series, and I hope that this perfect novel receives the accolades and marketing that it so justly deserves. I recommend this series to readers ages 10+.
It truly has been a magical ride.