Daughter of the Burning City by Amanda FoodyDaughter of the Burning City by Amanda Foody
Published by Harlequin on September 7th, 2017
Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy
Pages: 416

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.

2.5 Stars

“But you’re an illusion,” I say. “I created you.”
“That doesn’t mean I’m not real.”

I’d been head over heels for this book ever since reading the premise – a notorious festival, charms and jynxes, illusions that can be killed – and I was beyond excited when our blog was accepted for an electronic ARC of this debut. Well, let’s say my heels broke and I fell face-first into the dirt.

Daughter of the Burning City had so much potential, so many brilliant ideas and magical elements which sparked my curiosity, but the execution failed to make those ideas shine. Foody’s imagination is enchanting but she didn’t turn her interesting ideas into a captivating story.

I’m so disappointed I don’t have more positive things to say about this debut since I could feel how much work Amanda Foody had put into this piece of YA literature. Perhaps I’ve become allergic to generic types of YA fantasy books, though I wouldn’t necessarily say this was the issue. Foody’s world had the potential to shine among books of its genre, as her creativity was a foundation for a curious world – a festival that functions like a moving town with a freak show as an attraction for people to spend money on things that leave them speechless in awe and/or in horror. Daughter of the Burning City‘s biggest weakness is its storyline. It bored me and I found myself skimming some parts, as the plot was predictable and lacked the tension to hook me. Sadly, not even the romantic subplot could save me from by boredom, even though it’s so easy to lure me into a plot with romantic chemistry (I can sometimes be shallow like that, I admit it).

When I cannot be pulled along by a storyline, I sometimes find interest in the characters which saves the book for me. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the case with this book, either. Sorina Gomorrah certainly has peculiarities that make her stand out among other female leads, which I’ll address in a sec. Her characterisation, however, didn’t click with me at all. She swayed between being juvenile, frustrating, naive, and unreasonable. The other characters (including the love interest) had the same flaw: They were interesting on the surface due to their abnormalities or unusual habits, but they also struck me as bland. I did like and appreciate the themes Foody wove into the story, using Sorina’s deformity to address beauty standards, self-worth, and being different. She also included racial, religious, and sexual diversity (though her inclusion of demisexuality was tainted by her portrayal of the usual YA insta-romance). These aspects were enjoyable but they couldn’t give the book the spice it needed because it didn’t change anything about the blandness nor did it increase my interest in where the plot was headed. Further, it occurred to me more than once how Foody had wasted the opportunity of Sorina’s deformity to tell the story from a different angle. She has no eyes yet she sees everything which seemed like a bit of a cop-out. Foody introduced such a unique heroine with her eye-less face but she didn’t quite rise to the challenge of writing a perspective from a person missing her eyes, I felt. You could’ve written this story from a blind person’s view (pun intended), and it’d have been a unique, amazing, and peculiar narration. (I should also add that at some point, Foody describes Sorina narrowing her eyes, which induced a shattering face-palm because – unless I missed something crucial – this is a careless mistake).

I remind myself that my face isn’t a deformity. It’s magic. I am magic.

The author avoided info-dumps with the world-building in her descriptions but compensated by filling the dialogue with supposedly by-the-bye information on the festival. This took away a lot of quality from the dialogue. It also became apparent that she tried to spice up the plot with political conflict but I wasn’t invested enough in the world to care about any political shenanigans. Foody did well with the world-building for the Gomorrah festival but failed to expand those skills to the realm at large, in my opinion. She dropped names of cities and areas and depicted a conflict between two “races” but it just didn’t cut it. I also wasn’t convinced of Foody’s explanation for Sorina’s ability to see and navigate without eyes. There was certainly a charm to the idea of vision without eyes but, without a proper development and Sorina brushing it off as “not truly knowing how it worked”, it just seemed like a cheap cop-out to avoid having to write from a blind person’s perspective. She supposedly relies on her jynx-work – so, her illusions – but there’s definitely no hint as to that happening. As for the writing, the difference between the first chapters and the rest of the read is almost palpable. The first chapters almost overdid it with the flowery descriptions, whereas the later chapters lacked some of that earlier grace. The writing style was torn between two extremes, in that sense, and I think something between purple and bland would’ve suited Daughter of the Burning City better.

Though Foody introduced a world of curiosities, peculiarities, and on the brink of war, Daughter of the Burning City couldn’t hold its own. I loved so many things about the story, just not the actual story. This debut is in much need of a polish, particularly where the characterisations and plot are concerned. Since this was an ARC, some aspects of the story might very well still change until publication, so I might’ve seen the rough diamond, not the end product. In any case, I believe Daughter of the Burning City had the potential to be more than what it turned out to be. 

** I received an eARC of this book from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Quotations may be subject to change in the final copy.**