Shimmer and Burn
by Mary Taranta
This is the story of two kings: one has taken to hiding among the shadows of a plague-ridden city while the other rules over his land with an iron fist, desperate to hold on to his stolen magic.
In Brindaigel, magic is worth a fortune. It’s worth killing for. And for those who seek the refuge of Avinea and a life among its broken lands, it’s worth everything.
Faris is a young girl looking for a way out. As a child, she watched her mother bring havoc and chaos down upon their household, all due her mortal sin – carrying forbidden magic and effectively, stealing from the Crown. After her home was effectively burned to the ground as punishment for her mother’s crimes, and Faris healed from the stab wound her mother inflicted upon her as a parting gift, life had to go on. The eldest daughter of a former clothier, Faris attempted to maintain some semblance of security in her family as the years of her childhood transitioned into young adulthood. Meager wages earned helped to keep her father in enough drink to allow him to remain sedated and immune to the pain of their existence, and stolen hours with the boy she was in love with kept her sane.
But despite their desolate surroundings and her lowly station in society, Faris couldn’t help but dream of something better. She also couldn’t help but allow the handsome Thaelan to spin her stories of the far-away land of Avinea, a place where they could start over and escape the hopelessness of their current situation. Avinea was a land where they could forge their own life among the beggars and thieves left to rot there after the war, and a place where Thaelan could forget about his betrothal to another. With a binding spell that would permanently link Thaelan to the King and thus dash any hope they have of escaping looming over their heads, Faris and her love make plans.
Decades before, a king was overthrown, and as a last act of vengeful spite, he set a plague upon the lands. Due to the passing of magic through bloodlines, the land of Avinea could not be saved — at least not until the overthrown king can be found, if he is even still alive. The former king Merlock has spent years slinking around in the darkness and shadows of the land he brought to destruction as payment for his betrayal, but there are those who are still loyal to the land of magic they grew up in. The loyalists refuse to back down to the nefarious characters that the plague has given birth to – veritable zombies and wraiths called hellborne, who achieve great joy in spreading The Burn across Avinea, all while taking pride in hunting down the small slivers of magic still lingering in the lands and trading it to the highest bidder.
One night Thaelan lays his plan bare — Faris is to immediately pack a bag and grab her young sister Cadence and come with him through the tunnels he has so painstakingly mapped out. The trail should lead them out of Brindaigel and into Avinea and eventually, a small life of freedom. But when the trio is caught, disaster falls down around them like a slap of thunder. Thaelan is murdered for his crimes against the Crown, as no one is allowed to leave Brindaigel. And Cadence is sentenced to a fate worse than death — she has a spell cast upon her that leaves her a mindless servant and a shell of the vibrant young girl she once was, set to performing any task her supervisor asks of her without question. Faris is able to escape but is left with the hardest of tasks; she must find a way to earn enough money to buy her sister’s freedom before Cadence is sold into something more salacious than her mind will allow her to contemplate.
Coming home one night after an evening spent in the fighting pits trying to earn a few pieces of silver, Faris finds an enemy in her home. Alistair Pembrough is the King’s hired executioner and a princess’s fiancée, and he was the one who personally killed Thaelan and any chance Faris had of a real future. With no love lost between them, the pair argue and spar before coming to a shaky agreement — Faris will submit herself to the tricky task of bringing magic into Avinea and under the guidance of Princess Bryn, will help to forge an alliance between Brindaigel and its bordering land. In return, Cadence will be released into Faris’ care. It’s a bargain that she has no choice but to accept, and so Faris accompanies the high-and-mighty Princess Bryn into a foreign land, complete with hidden magic snaking just under the surface of her skin.
But at every turn, things turn nasty. Before they even embark, the cold and calculating Princess Bryn binds Faris to her with a spell that does nothing but protect the Princess and ail the subsequent slave. Any time Bryn is scratched, stabbed, punched — it’s not herself that feels the pain inflicted, it’s Faris. As a result, the enmity between the two women grows strong and wild, and while the Princess does her best to keep her slave in line at all costs, Faris begins to weave a plan of her own making. The women find themselves face to face with the bloodthirsty hellborne, a group of scavengers who are addicted to the magic that runs in Faris’ veins and can whisk it away from her with just a touch.
After the two are kidnapped and locked in cages while awaiting their sale at market, they come across a traveler and his apprentice who eventually end up becoming their saving grace. North is as guiding as the star he is named for, and his steady promise to get them to their destination of New Prevast safely is a welcome reprieve — for Faris at least. The gypsy magician has secrets of his own, however, and the mission becomes one wrought with complications and trickery. Amongst the twisted politics between two lands that are both using her as a pawn, Faris will have to make some hard choices — and risk losing love, again.
Shimmer and Burn is the debut novel by daydreaming artist and educated writer, Mary Taranta. A Florida native by way of a small town in Ohio, Taranta grew up as one of ten children, which may be an inspiration when creating the ties that bind sister to sister in her novel. While diving into the world of fantasy and magic is no easy feat, I have to say that Taranta has knocked the ball out of the park with a fresh and exciting young adult novel that had me begging for more at the end. Strong characters lend an appeal that readers have come to expect with YA fantasy novels and the approach to the world of magic is new and crisp. Keeping true to the adage of keeping your friends close and your enemies closer, readers will be shocked and awed by the villains that hide as thorns among roses. I give the novel 4.5 out of 5 stars and am waiting on veritable pins and needles to read more. Fans of the fantasy powerhouse Sarah J. Maas’ A Court of Thorns and Roses series will enjoy Shimmer and Burn, but may miss the sexual aspect Maas is known for. Shimmer and Burn is appropriate for ages 13+, with some violence and scary images the only things to consider in terms of appropriateness.