16-year-old Sorina has no eyes and yet, somehow, she can see. She can see well enough to manage a freak show in the travelling circus-festival of Gomorrah, a place so eternally bathed in smoke that it is known as the burning city. But nobody realises that all of Sorina’s performers (which include a boneless acrobat, a fiddle-playing half girl/half hawk, a fire-breathing baby and a human tree) are actually illusions, tulpa-like creations born out of Sorina’s own imagination. They are her family, fiercely protective of each other despite their constant bickering, united against the prejudices of the outside world – but something unbelievable is happening. Even though Sorina’s creations cannot be killed because they do not truly exist, someone is methodically murdering them one-by-one. As the body count rises, Sorina teams up with another magic worker called Luca in a desperate bid to track down the assassin. But Sorina cannot know, as the search draws her deeper into Gomorrah’s dark and dangerous heart, that the final revelation will shatter her world forever.
Daughter of the Burning City is Amanda Foody’s debut novel and, although far from perfect, it’s a fascinating ride. The central concept is intriguing and the two main characters – Sorina and her (initially) irritating demisexual ‘love interest’ Luca – are great protagonists. There’s also laudable substance to the fantasy – Foody’s writing not only celebrates sexual and racial diversity it also effectively challenges society’s stigmatisation of those who do not fit the perceived norm, all without banging-the-drum or detracting from the narrative. It’s very clever writing. Also, even if you spot the assassin before the big reveal, the climax is satisfyingly twisty.
The big problem is, there’s far too much going on. There’s an inconsistency to the world building (especially Sorina’s magical abilities, which feel a little over-complicated) and some of the dialogue is unconvincing and exposition-heavy. More than that, there’s often a sense that Foody is spinning-the-wheels in between murders, as if her characters aren’t quite sure what to do next. The pacing is great until after the second kill, and then the story falls into a groove that sometimes feels quite repetitive.
Still, there’s a fearsome imagination going on here and Amanda Foody is obviously a talent to watch very closely. If you enjoyed The Night Circus or Caraval you’re probably going to eat this up with a spoon.
DAUGHTER OF THE BURNING CITY / AUTHOR: AMANDA FOODY / PUBLISHER: HQ YOUNG ADULT / RELEASE DATE: 7TH SEPTEMBER