I want to thank Blink YA Books for approving my request to read this as a digital review copy. I was very excited to explore this after reading its promising summary and I’m very happy to have been given the chance.
Title: Ignite the Sun
Author: Hanna C. Howard (American author)
Genre: YA fantasy
Themes: Self-discovery, good vs. evil
First publication: Blink YA Books (August 2020)
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
What I liked: The magic system and history
What I didn’t like: Small flaws normal for a debut
What is this? Ignite the Sun is the YA debut of Hanna C. Howard, set to release 18th August 2020. The story follows a kingdom that only knows the sun by legends, after Queen Iyzabel brought her Darkness over the lands. People are taught the Light is evil and unhealthy and legends of evil nymphs and naiads spread. But there’s a small rebellion growing and Siria, a girl who has always hated the darkness, will try to restore the light before she loses everything.
Why did I request this galley? We’ve already established I’m the “wow that cover, give it to me” type of person. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this was the first thing that pulled my attention. But reading the summary, I was getting excited too. What enthralled me the most was the description of elemental magic being used in a kingdom torn apart. I was hoping for political schemes, rich histories from different groups and the description and use of a magical system based on elements. I was really happy when the publisher approved me to read this before release, as I did immensely enjoyed this book.
“Once upon a time, there was something called the sun.”
My review: Let me start off by saying that this book has flaws. I’m going to talk about them but I want to acknowledge something that readers have been shamed for, which I find unnecessary to begin with. Reading and enjoying a flawed book is allowed. From my point of view, flaws can either dominate or be dominated by enjoyment. The latter was the case for this book. Although I can see and describe the flaws that stand out to me, I still think this book is an incredible promising debut from an author I will be following from now on. I also think these flaws aren’t problematic. For every flaw, I can find something that covers it up, so to speak.
To start off, the main story is creative. I’ve found myself enjoying elemental magic a lot and the premise of pulling magic from both the sun and darkness is something symbolic. Although I can admit that it’s been done before (here’s that first flaw), the execution took it to a next level.
We meet Siria, a girl that has been brought up in the darkness. Although she longs for a change and hates the darkness, Siria wants to please her demanding parents who hold a place at the Queen’s court. When she’s invited to the Choosing Ball her life is brought upside down and she discovers secrets about herself that will lead her on a quest. Now, Siria is what gives this not-extremely-creative story a next level. Her inner struggles are very realistic and human. She has been lied to and her trust in certain people has been broken. And Hanna Howard does, with this, what not every author wants to try: she acknowledges in her writing that trust is something fragile and that it needs time to heal. The book doesn’t glorify lying for someone’s good and tells us that forgiveness is not given easily. It tells you it needs time and it doesn’t pass over it with just one or two dialogues. And that’s something I can truly appreciate.
It goes even further than that. Siria is privileged by status and she gets confronted with this on a regular basis. She is confronted with commoners who don’t have it easy, with orphans who never had parents to take care of her, never a chance of a good education. She’s also confronted with her youthful, vain and ignorant point of views. In this way, Siria is a character that knows a lot of growth throughout the story without glancing over subjects that can’t be ignored. The moment Siria is confronted with her privilege you receive an inner dialogue of growth and doubt.
“Everyone’s afraid of things. It’s how you react that makes you a coward.”
Siria’s growth is also thanks to her found family, a trope I love in YA fantasies. They trigger her realizations about privilege and her behavior by non-judgmental and healthy discussions that give Siria more perspective. The book talks, through these dialogues, about subjects such as trust, betrayal, braveness and fighting for what you believe.
But then there’s also the need to talk about the magical system and culture. The story takes place in a land full of magical creatures. Nymphs, naiads, witches, and so on. Each of them played a role in the history of the kingdom, which is explained throughout different chapters. One thing I appreciated is that the history of everything wasn’t just thrown and shoved down my throat in one expositional dialogue. The start of this book can seem very daunting or confusing because you’re missing information. But that’s something I’ve grown to like in fantasy books. The readers, in these sort of books, have to explore for themselves. They have to take in the setting and notice small details in order to make the puzzle. The puzzle in this book is formed by a cultural war between witches and nymphs, and elemental magic. The explanation of magic is what really pulled me in, although I think the author could’ve gone a step further. Nonetheless, however flawed the richness of this system is, I still loved the dialogues that offered more insight to the elements.
The chapters where the whole gang travels together and the dialogues that explained the history were my favorite parts of this book. Which gives me an opening to parts I didn’t enjoy as much, perhaps.
For one thing, this is a book that is said to have aprox. 350 pages (I read this as a digital copy so I can’t confirm) and it has over 50 chapters. To me, that seems a bit excessive and I found myself wondering why certain chapters were separated. For my feeling, not all chapters were necessary, or at least not that many short ones.
To add to that, the last chapter was probably the longest but also the fastest. This book ends abruptly which made me think “huh?“. The climax of this book immediately results in the ending of the book which made me wonder whether this is really meant to be a standalone book. For me, it should be one of two things. One, you end the book abruptly but do it with an ending that offers more conflict to be taken on in a sequel. Or two, you take more time to flesh out the climax and wrap everything up. This book did neither and chose to abruptly end without a fleshed out wrap-up. This felt a bit weirdly paced for me and I was left wondering what happens next.
Summarized: This is a book I could not put down and makes me curious about what this author will bring in the future. The culture of a kingdom in (unknowing) despair receives a very rich setting of conflicting elemental magic uses and beliefs. Refinement of chapters and the ending would lift this book up.
Nonetheless, I preordered this book and I’m very curious to see whether the publisher and author might think of adding an illustrated map of the kingdom and taking on a few refinements. Plus, that cover just makes me want to scream.