A Twisty New YA Fantasy Debut: Shimmer and Burn by Mary Taranta

A Twisty New YA Fantasy Debut: Shimmer and Burn by Mary TarantaShimmer and Burn
by Mary Taranta
Release Date: August 8th 2017
Published by Margaret K. McElderry Books
Genres: Fantasy, Romance, YA
Format: eARC
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four-stars
Source: ARC received for review purposes

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.

ARC received for review purposes in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.


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YA fantasy used to be one of my favorite genres in the past, but lately, I haven’t been meshing well with it. But still every time that I hear about a new fantasy book releasing, my interests piques. Shimmer and Burn was one of those books that tickled my fancy. Then I took a closer look at the book summary, and the minute I found out the plot was centered around the relationship between two sisters, I was more than in. I’m thrilled that my gut feelings about this book was right.

The main element that kept me glued to Shimmer and Burn was the impressive world building. Mary Taranta builds up the world, foundation by foundation, in a spellbinding fashion. The Kingdom, riddled with corrupt dark magic that was literally killing people, was written so intricately, I was able to picture every aspect of it. I was equally fascinated by the background here, which much like the world building, builds up piece by piece, as the author reveals more and more information throughout the book. I loved learning about the different regions within the Kingdom, the past war and how the decimation of certain cities came about. Even more interesting were the politics in Shimmer and Burn. They are twisted, with corruption, betrayals and secrets in the midst of it all, which isn’t all that unique when you think of it, but Taranta makes it her own with the way she weaves the political figures into the story. The book had the unlikely quality of being able to surprise me basically in every chapter – I swear my mind and heart were racing all over the place while I was reading Shimmer and Burn.

As for the characters in this book, I will say that I didn’t form an immediate connection to them. Instead, it took for me learning more about their personalities to become interested in them. Faris, the protagonist here, was a dependable young woman who has one main goal throughout the book : save her sister. At the beginning of the book, while attempting to escape the city of Brindaigel, her boyfriend is brutally murdered and made an example of to anyone else wanting to escape. Despite the obvious grief that she was feeling, she doesn’t falter in her absolute desire to save her sister, and her pure love for her sibling. Along the way, she learns more about the world that she lives in, becoming stronger, more confident, and more knowledgeable about the darkness within the magic infesting her world. She had her vulnerabilities that came out a few times during Shimmer and Burn, which made for an even more interesting heroine. For me, she was a character that grew considerably, which ultimately made her a heroine I enjoyed. She turned pretty ruthless by the end, and I’m excited to see where her character goes to next.

Shimmer and Burn has an equally compelling secondary cast. I especially enjoyed Bryn’s character here. She was truly manipulative, often times having zero qualms for using the people around her for her own gains, and I was never quite sure what her intentions were. That made for such an intriguing and oddly interesting character for me – what can I say I love those characters you just love to hate. There was also North, and his tiger pet, who I enjoyed as a protagonist. He was also full of surprises, but underneath everything, he was a genuinely sweet guy with good intentions to save the people he cared for. He and Faris grow a bud of romance here, that I’m hoping to see will blossom into something a bit stronger. For now though, I was satisfied with what we got here because it wouldn’t have made sense for Faris to jump into a relationship so soon after the death of her boyfriend, and in the middle of all the magical and political shenanigans.

Mary Taranta has a way with words and I can’t believe this is just her debut novel. Shimmer and Burn was terrific, and ended on a very gripping note. It’s going to be an excruciating wait for the sequel to be out. In the mean time though, you should certainly check out this fantastic YA fantasy read!

What are some of your recent favorite YA fantasy reads?
Let me know in the comments below!

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Nick
  • Okay so honestly Nick I headed over to request this one when I saw your GR status updates. You never steer me wrong with fantasies! I wasn’t too big on this book because the synopsis was “ehh” (I kind of just skimmed it at first) and the cover was mehh” and I haven’t really heard of it in general. But I’m so glad you brought this my way! I love seeing the mc’s character development, very light romance, and love to hatable protagonist. Fantasies that take time to build worlds and create complex politics are always a thumbs up for me. Now fingers crossed I get accepted! 😛

    – Aila @ Happy Indulgence

    • Aila, I have my fingers crossed you get approved. I can so see you enjoying this one. And I agree! I kinda dismissed this one too because of the cover, but I saw someone’s review that got me really interested. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

  • Ack. I typically have the same problems with YA fantasy novels (or plain fantasy in general, for that matter). It’s probably why I stay away. Sigh.

    • This one is a good one though, Joy!

  • I used to read a lot of YA fantasy, too, but as you know I haven’t read a YA book in maybe 6 months. But I’m so glad you loved this. I struggle with books that have a lot of world building, though. I mean, I like a well developed world, but I don’t necessarily want to read lots and lots about it. I’m more interested in the characters.

    • This one didn’t have lots of it like you’re thinking, because it builds up slowly. But it’s also not weak. Too much world building tends to bore me too.

  • I love Fantasy, and have enjoyed some YA titles. This sounds quite good Nick. I like the sound of the world building and strong secondary characters. Wonderful review!

    • Ooh you would appreciate all the twistiness of this one, Kim!

  • First that cover is stunning. I love it. I am glad the insides seem to have matched the outside. Great review!

    • Right? It doesn’t look like a typical YA fantasy cover, which is nice!

  • I love that cover and the world and characters sound amazing. Wonderful review.

    Jenea’s Book Obsession

    • The characters were exceptional! Thanks so much! 🙂

  • kindlemom1

    I feel the same way about this genre lately Nick and even though I haven’t been reading as much from it I’m still drawn to it like crazy. I so want to read this now. 😉 Wonderful review!

    • You’d love this, Ali!

  • Jessica Porter

    I can not wait to read this. The author is doing a release day here in Florida and I hope that I love this book because the cover is just so pretty.

    • I hope you enjoy it! It really was a fabulous book.

  • Ugh I haaaaate waiting for the next one when I reallllllly want a book

    • Same! Waiting is torture!

  • I haven’t heard much about this one yet, but your review definitely put it on my radar!! I love fantasy books that involve political intrigue. And I also always enjoy stories about sisters! Thanks for this great review, Nick!

    • Thanks, Madalyn. I hadn’t heard much about it either, but I’m glad I picked it up!

  • I’m so happy that the insides of the book match this gorgeous cover. I also adore fantasy, so I cannot wait to get my hands on this one.

    • I’m actually not a fan of the cover, but the inside is awesome! I hope you like it!

  • oh this one simply sounds wonderful, and I am so glad you enjoyed it so much. And its always fun to discover these brilliant debut novels.

    • Thank you! I was glad I discovered this one too!

  • Oooh – how did this one not get onto my TBR before now? I mean, YA fantasy is totally my thing and this one sounds fantastic! Your review has definitely got me needing this one – great world building, character growth and a great secondary cast? I need this!

  • I just finished this a a few days ago and I was so happy that I picked up this new series up. Shimmer and Burn was a slow buildup like you mentioned – and I loved that I was surprised many times. And, I love me a complicated anti-heroine and wow, Bryn was that and more. I can’t wait for the next one. I’m so happy you liked this one Nick!! 🙂

  • I’ve seen this book about and I haven’t been as excited for a lot of YA fantasy of late but I may check this out. I do love there is a whole lot of character growth going on and the MC manages to not fall about when things get tough but knows what her goal is. I also love it’s all about the bond between two sisters. I am intrigued by you saying it ended on a gripping note. I want to know what that note is but I don’t know if I can take the wait for a sequel. maybe I’ll read when the sequel is out. It’s way more fun to have a binge read.

  • Wow, I completely missed this one! It sounds awesome. There aren’t enough YA fantasy stories that focus on sibling relationships Imo, and the world building and politics that Taranta has put together here sound fantastic. I’ve got to get a hold of this when it comes out, because it sounds like this is an impressive debut all around. You’ve got me hooked already!

  • Now I’m even more excited to read this one! The world building sounds incredible and I love the sound of the character growth. I think I need to preorder this one.