Daughter of the Burning City, by Amanda Foody
Publisher: Harlequin Teen
Release Date: July 25, 2017
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.
Lesbian Secondary Character
Content Warning for:
(Internalised) Ableism/Facial Discrimination
Mention of Slavery/Child Abduction
Religious Cult and Oppression
Disfigurement as Punishment
I picked this book up because I am very fond of carnival settings (and because of the pretty cover). I am intrigued by the notion of carnivals being – or becoming – a home for misfits who are not accepted in society because they are different. I also just love to be amazed and gaze open-mouthed at everything a wandering carnival has to offer— shows, smells, food, debauchery, and secrets.
The smoke that envelops Gomorrah utterly blocks out any view of the sky. The smoke is part of Gomorrah’s legend: once upon a time, we were burned to the ground. But we did not die. Instead we kept burning, kept moving, kept growing. The smoke surrounds us, even if we no longer burn. There is no fire, but sometimes, if you catch yourself around Gomorrah’s edges, the air thickens from stifling heat and the lanterns glow a little bit brighter.
Setting wise this book was a total cracker. I could explore and discover the sites and the magic within until the very end, and it was atmospheric, mysterious, and inventive. I love that Gomorrah unravels little by little and that the reader wanders closer and closer to the (metaphorical) centre of it.
Gomorrah is also imbedded into the outer world, that is, quite frankly, an awful and hateful place full of discrimination and, to make things worse, a religious cult that gives people a means to rectify their spite and power games.
Both Gomorrah and this country that the carnival travels through build the playground for a mystery that was the very first I was interested in. (I do not like mysteries, they bore me so.)
All I can see is how little we see, how dense the fog is that covers our enemies. We have no idea what we may be up against. Any theory could be right. Any person could be suspicious.
I was very much engaged with actively trying to figure out who could be behind the murders of Sorina’s family, and I couldn’t figure it out which is all the better. I usually either don’t care for the whodunnit or I know it halfway through the book but this wasn’t the case here at all. I had a lot of suspects but I couldn’t decide between them. I had suspicions for the how but not the why, and so, in the end, everything made perfect sense to me but I was still surprised by all that was revealed.
Regardless of being entertained the whole time by the setting and the mystery (and also by the people whom I will talk about in a minute), I still thought that this book was damn long. My progress bar just wouldn’t move forward. I prefer shorter books, that is true, but with fantasy I also don’t mind longer books if they are awesome, which is to say, I do think that this book could have been shorter and be better for it.
Moving on to the characters, I want you to meet Sorina, our protagonist from whose point of view the story is told in a first person present tense narration. She was born with special magical abilities and no eyes. Through her abilities she is actually able to see, so she’s not blind, but she usually wears a mask to conceal her deformity. Sorina is an easily likeable character that I gladly rooted for. She’s interesting and we accompany her during a difficult time when she’s forced to quickly grow up and discover lies – or truths – about herself and the people around her.
We are putting on a show, but I had always believed that was because Gomorrah is a city of performers. Turns out, we are a city of liars. I suppose one could call them the same thing.
I found her voice to be pleasant if a bit muffled— not dull or anything, just maybe not reaching the potential a first person narrator can achieve. Her male counterpart Luca, on the other hand, was more fascinating to me. The slow and sweet romance between these two was lovely to read about. Sorina is bisexual and Luca demisexual; he only takes to – or thinks about – Sorina in a romantic way after a while, and I don’t think the execution of this transition was done in a very smooth way, to be honest, but I didn’t mind that very much.
There are also quite a lot of secondary characters who give complexity to the story but none of them stood really out to me, which actually plays quite well into the guessing spiel of who the culprit is.
Concerning the tons of content warnings I put above, I want to elaborate here a little. I didn’t find the book or content heavy nor too much nor unnecessary. Depiction of violence and such is not very descriptive or marvelled in, which I was grateful for. I want to mention, though, that people in- and outside of Gomorrah as well as Sorina herself react in a discriminating and resenting way towards her deformity. I personally find internalised self-hatred a lot harder to deal with, but I didn’t think it was overdone and I could witness from the start that Sorina was working on loving herself and her uniqueness which made it easier to read her doubts and shame concerning her appearance.
With regards to diversity, this book has a lot to offer as well as concerning the fantasy carnival setting and the mystery. While the pacing and narrating voice could have been better, I liked spending time with the characters and exploring this world. Recommended!
Amanda Foody has always considered imagination to be our best attempt at magic. After spending her childhood longing to attend Hogwarts, she now loves to write about immersive settings and characters grappling with insurmountable destinies. She holds a Masters in Accountancy from Villanova University, and a Bachelors of Arts in English Literature from the College of William and Mary. Currently, she works as a tax accountant in Philadelphia, PA, surrounded by her many siblings and many books.
DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY, her first novel, will be published by Harlequin TEEN on July 25, 2017. Her second, ACE OF SHADES, will follow in April 2018.
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I received an advanced copy of this novel in exchange for a fair and honest review.