Shimmer and Burn, by Mary Taranta, is a YA fantasy novel that dazzles readers with dark magic, hidden kingdoms and intriguing characters. The first of a duology, it is the kind of book that pulls you in to its world and holds you breathless as you learn its dangers and secrets. The prose is rich and detailed while also full of action that at times will stun readers with the depth of its darkness. Yet within it there is also a bright streak of hope that seems to follow its protagonist, Faris, through even the most dangerous adventures.
Faris is a teenage girl living in the hidden kingdom of Brindaigel, where magic and lives are strictly controlled. Living as a servant and caring for her sister, she dreams of seeing what lies beyond the mountains that separate Brindaigel from the wider world. But the people of Brindaigel are not free; they’ve been told they are kept inside the kingdom in order to remain safe from a plague that wiped out another kingdom beyond the mountains: Avinea. But is the King telling the truth? What really lies in Avinea? Faris risks her life to find out, journeying to a land that, unlike the beautiful Avinea of her dreams – is a frightening place where people and magic are bought and sold at high stakes. There, Faris finds herself tied to a beautiful yet dangerous princess, Bryn, and a mysterious magician, North, as she seeks freedom for both her sister and herself.
The strength of this story lies in both the detailed fantasy world and its kingdoms that Taranta has built, as well as the complex relationships between its characters. Faris is a strong female protagonist willing to fight for herself and the ones she loves, yet princess Bryn and magician North are written equally as strong and have enough mystery to keep readers wanting more of them. Perhaps the most beautiful moments in Shimmer and Burn are the quiet ones, when we find that at the heart of this magic filled fantasy is a girl who wants the thing that seems so easily given, yet remains most elusive: the freedom to dream.
This is a magical fantasy that, like its title, both shimmers and burns with a story that will no doubt make many readers fall in love with a young girl seeking the freedom to dream, and to live life on her own terms.
*I received an ARC from KidlitExchange in exchange for an honest review.
Stacie Eirich is a writer as well as an avid reader & book reviewer. She holds a Masters Degree in English Studies from Illinois State University. She has published four books of poetry and a children’s novel: Tiger Kingdom & The Book of Destiny. She lives north of New Orleans, and is currently writing her second children’s novel.