Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books on August 8th, 2017
To save her sister’s life, Faris must smuggle magic into a plague-ridden neighboring kingdom in this exciting and dangerous start to a brand-new fantasy duology.
Faris grew up fighting to survive in the slums of Brindaigel while caring for her sister, Cadence. But when Cadence is caught trying to flee the kingdom and is sold into slavery, Faris reluctantly agrees to a lucrative scheme to buy her back, inadvertently binding herself to the power-hungry Princess Bryn, who wants to steal her father’s throne.
Now Faris must smuggle stolen magic into neighboring Avinea to incite its prince to alliance—magic that addicts in the war-torn country can sense in her blood and can steal with a touch. She and Bryn turn to a handsome traveling magician, North, who offers protection from Avinea’s many dangers, but he cannot save Faris from Bryn’s cruelty as she leverages Cadence’s freedom to force Faris to do anything—or kill anyone—she asks. Yet Faris is as fierce as Bryn, and even as she finds herself falling for North, she develops schemes of her own.
With the fate of kingdoms at stake, Faris, Bryn, and North maneuver through a dangerous game of magical and political machinations, where lives can be destroyed—or saved—with only a touch.
Shimmer and Burn is the biggest, though darkly pleasant, surprise of my reading year so far. I hadn’t heard anything about this before going in, other than just a bit of the synopsis, so I had no expectations. But I was blown away. This book has so much I love in a fantasy, from cruel princesses to poisoned magic, a feline companion and a tyrant of a king. I fell head over heels for this fantasy and its world, I just want to read this over and over again.
From the very start, I was entranced. The opening is the main character, Faris, and her love, Thaelan, as they imagine life beyond the mountainous borders of their home, Brindaigel. Faris wears a scar on her chest from ten years ago when her mother tried to kill her, and she bears the emotional scars of life under the oppressive regime of King Perrote. He tells his people the nation on the other side of the mountains, Avinea, has succumbed to the magical plague and that there’s nothing but wasteland outside of their borders. But that doesn’t stop Faris and Thaelan from mapping tunnels and attempting to escape to what they hope is a better life. This hope and their love had me sold from the beginning; I believed in them and I believed in their dreams, even though I had only known them for less than a chapter, and I think that speaks to Taranta’s characterization. She knows how to wrap you up in a character’s emotions, tug at your heart, and then rip it out. I couldn’t believe how much I felt for these two, and I already cried just a few chapters in, even though I barely knew them at all.
The book really gets going when we meet the king’s executioner, Pem, and the cruel, evil princess, Bryn. Can I just say that Bryn is my queen? I love every murderous, cold inch of her, despite all the terrible things she does throughout the course of the story. She’s not the villain, but she’s certainly no hero or friend to Faris. And I love Faris so, so much. She shows that you can be tough as nails but still have a heart. She loves her sister Cadence, and despite the evils she’s seen, she still genuinely believes that there is good in people. She hurts when she hurts others. She’s not quick to kill like a lot of other heroines, and she wrestles with vice and virtue throughout the novel.
Speaking of vice and virtue, this is an overarching theme of the story, and one I was actually hesitant about at first. When it became clear that this story was addressing darkness and “purity” I was a bit upset and thought the message leaned toward preaching. For a while there was a lot of guilt about vice and wanting, with Faris and North (who we will get to in a second) wrestling with themselves and temptation and hurting the few to save the whole. I loved that Faris actually did wrestle with this; it wasn’t a fleeting thought that she simply shrugged off and ignored. Faris struggled with selfishness and greed and feeling like she was doing the right thing but wondering if she was just kidding herself. I loved this. Words cannot express how much I loved this about Faris and how it made her character so much richer.
And North! If you love a hate-to-love romance, you’ll adore his relationship with Faris. He and his apprentice, Tobek, save the girls from imminent death, but in the plague ridden world of Avinea, we don’t really know if we can trust him. Oh, I loved him so much. He is another complex and thoughtful character. If you know me, you know nothing pulls at my heart quite like a character who is bound by honor and duty, and that’s North in a nutshell. He is trying to save the kingdom he lives in, using scraps of magic, cunning, and not much else. Also, he has a cat. That’s right, a magicked miniature tiger named Darjin to lives in his covered wagon and joins him and Tobek on their magical adventures.
Everything about Shimmer and Burn was magical from start to finish. The only reason this didn’t get a five-star rating was because it took me a bit to wrap my head around the magic system. There were parts that confused me, though I’m sure other more experienced fantasy readers will easily understand it. The writing was delicious and spoke to Faris’ dark heart and the dying land around her. I absolutely cannot wait for more people to read this and gush about it, and also for the sequel that I’m dying to read immediately.