This debut fantasy novel was mentioned on Twitter a few weeks ago, and the cover drew me in instantly. Thanks to the publisher (HQ Young Adult) and NetGalley for the opportunity to read this ahead of publication!
A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.
Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling circus-city, Sorina stands apart as the only illusion-worker born in hundreds of years. This rare talent allows her to create illusions that others can see, feel and touch, with personalities all their own. Her creations are her family, and together they make up the cast of the Festival’s Freak Show.
But no matter how lifelike they may seem, her illusions are still just that—illusions, and not truly real. Or so she always believed…until one of them is murdered.
Desperate to protect her family, Sorina must track down the culprit and determine how they killed a person who doesn’t actually exist. Her search for answers leads her to the self-proclaimed gossip-worker Luca, and their investigation sends them through a haze of political turmoil and forbidden romance, and into the most sinister corners of the Festival. But as the killer continues murdering Sorina’s illusions one by one, she must unravel the horrifying truth before all of her loved ones disappear.
I really very much enjoyed this book. It took me approximately forever to read it (two weeks) due to a combination of circumstances – mostly that it’s been too hot to do anything but sit miserably on the couch and moan about how hot I am, but also because I’ve been quite busy the last few weeks. So my experience of this book was somewhat disjointed, as several days would pass between times when I could actually sit down and get into it. And, to be honest, that’s something I regret, because Daughter of the Burning City was a really enjoyable experience. It’s unusual to read a standalone fantasy which succeeds in building a world that convinces the reader to come and explore the smoky, seedy world of Gomorrah with Sorina as she tracks down a killer that she’s not even sure exists.
Populated by a cast of freaks and weirdoes, largely the creation of Sorina’s own mind, the underlying themes of family, belonging, what it means to be human, and how to fit in in a world where you’re not quite normal were delicately handled and left me thinking long after I finished.
I also very much appreciated the diversity in this book. It’s hard not to be diverse when your main character has no eyes and her family includes a girl who’s part hawk and two boys who share a body, but you know, I liked as well that the main character is bisexual, her love interest is demi-sexual, and one of her sisters is lesbian (or possibly bisexual/pansexual, it’s not specified). In a city-circus which is known for being a travelling den of debauchery, a few same-sex relationships wouldn’t raise so much as an eyebrow, so the book gets props for that.
All in all, this was an exciting and darkly dangerous standalone fantasy which succeeded in building a world that I solidly believed in, accented with throwbacks to biblical stories from which the inspiration for Gomorrah must have arisen. Complex and layered, and with a satifying mystery and several twists that I didn’t see coming, I thoroughly enjoyed this one, and am only sad that life got in the way of being able to sit down and consume it as it probably should have been consumed – in one dark night of indulgence, like a visit to the city-circus itself.
Due to my own fragmented reading of the book, I think I lost elements of connection with the characters and also managed to forget the thread of the story, so for me this was not quite as good as I think it could have been if I had read it at a different time, but I think that’s on me, rather than on the book itself!