This lackluster debut combines familiar elements into a tale neither rare nor wonderful, despite some acclaim in its native Britain.
The formula is simple: war-torn country, power-mad leader (one of 13, technically), young person with unexpected powers who might be the answer to everything. But heroine Kate Winters never shows much pluck: She may wield significant power, though generally with little sense of how, and spends most of her time listening to other characters spout lengthy exposition. There is no purpose to power-mad leader Da’ru beyond her hunger for control. And although graveyard/city Fume is fascinating and the magic of Fume (bonemen, magical locks powered by spirits) hints at great powers of invention, Albion as a whole remains unknowable. What is the war, and why? How, in this pre-industrialized world with no commercial ties to “the continent,” does a bookstore make for a viable living? Enigmatic, deathless Silas Dane comes across as the most nuanced of the characters, and his cold alliance with Kate is the heart of the novel, but Kate’s narrative perspective keeps him at a distance.
Mediocre, but flashes of inspiration indicate Burtenshaw’s potential, as yet untapped. (Fantasy. 10-14)