Fantasy for Young Adults is definitely in right now, but if you’re looking for something wholly unique to stand out from the pack, you need to check out Mary Taranta’s Shimmer and Burn. There’s a lot of political scheming, some family drama, and a hint of forbidden romance that will set your fingers itching to keep turning those pages. PLUS it’s the first in a new duology, so yes, that means you have to wait for the next one, but it’s a satisfying wait because the next one is also the last one.
Need some more convincing? Here are just a couple more reasons to check out Shimmer and Burn.
1. A Badass heroine
Faris Locke may not start out as your typical definition of a bad-ass, but as her situation out in the wildlands of Avinea gets more and more desperate, her courage and daring step up. Between a manipulative princess, a sister held hostage, and the constant threat of hellborne magic addicts trying to steal her only bargaining chip, Faris has her work cut out for her. Did I mention she’s also been taking care of her little sister for ten years, ever since her mother was arrested and executed for stealing the king’s magic and then trying to murder Faris? Oh, and she also boxes for extra cash. NBD. She’s been knocked down, her dreams crushed, but every time she finds a way to stand back up with fists and fangs bared.
2. A scheming princess
Princess Bryn is one of those characters you love to hate. She is power hungry and manipulative, and worst of all, her arguments are logically sound, so Faris can’t even argue back. She creates this plan to steal her father’s throne, and keeps herself safe in Avinea by binding Faris to her to the point where she can’t disobey Bryn, else she risks herself and her sister. She is cunning and wicked, and her desperation for her father’s throne (by any means necessary) makes her dangerous.
3. A weirdly lovable…executioner?
Alistair Pembrough is the king’s infamous executioner and Bryn’s betrothed. Faris has plenty of reasons to hate him, but in his approximately four total appearances throughout Shimmer and Burn, Pem does nothing but try (in his admittedly odd and misguided way) to help Faris get her sister back from the king’s enslavement. He’s clearly in just as tight a spot as Faris, and their odd relationship makes you want to root for him.
4. A hot, tortured magician
North is on a mission to find clean magic and use it to find the exiled king of Avinea, Merlock, to support the bastard prince Corbin, but being so close to the Burn and it’s hellborne means he and his assistant Tobek are constantly at risk of being infected by dirty, poisoned magic. The very magic he uses to protect them puts him at greater risk of being infected, and he’s got quite a few secrets hiding in that heart of gold, making his cover very hard to keep as he starts falling for Faris 😉
5. Poisonous magic
(aka a super interesting and unique magic physics)
The physics of the magic in this universe are nothing like I’ve ever read before in a YA fantasy, which is incredibly cool to a nerd like me. There’s a source of magic, but people cannot “create” it, only carry it (like Faris) or use/manipulate it (like North, or Faris’s mother). But the more it’s manipulated or used for different purposes, the easier it gets “dirty” and dirty magic is poisonous. A huge issue is that magic is addictive, and if it’s available willy-nilly like it is in the wilds of Avinea, people become addicts, and will take any magic they can get, clean or poisoned. To protect themselves, magicians can use stones and other fabrics as buffers to keep the magic out of their skin and blood, but any time they try to use the magic, they have to “unravel” the fabric of its original use and they run the risk of stray strands catching onto them. It’s a little complicated, but original and unique, and definitely worth checking out.
6. ALL THE SECRETS
It’d be easier to say who ISN’T keeping a secret in this book, but that’s no fun! The list starts at King Perrote and trickles down to basically every character Faris meets – Bryn, Pembrough, the hellborne leader Baedan, North, Tobek, the exiled king of New Prevast, even Faris’s dead mother! There’s a lot going on in Avinea, and once those secrets start coming out, you can’t turn the pages fast enough.