Daughter of the Burning City
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.
Okay, I know I’m not the first one to review Daughter of the Burning City. I feel like just about everything’s been said already, but I’m going to put in my two cents anyway.
The setting was beautiful. It’s everything I wanted from Caraval and then some. You get to see so much of this city, and the story is so compelling, that even though there were other things that bothered me a lot and made me want to drop the book and walk away, the story kept me hooked.
You can just feel how much effort was put into the world building, it feels beautifully deliberate, and it’s wonderfully crafted. Really, this did not feel like a debut novel in any way except for the characters.
I have a thing for characters. Most of my favorite books are character-driven rather than plot driven. When I have a story idea for myself, it’s more a character idea than anything else. So I really kind of focus in on characters without really thinking about it.
(I will admit that sometimes this makes me overly hard on them and I think you should know that before we go into this next section.)
Sorina was the bane of my existence through this whole book. It’s been a good, long while since the main character has bothered me this much. She wants to be heroic, and she wants to be brave, but she spends so much time whining about it that she doesn’t have time to do it.
Also, there was a big part of her character that I didn’t buy at. all. So she came to Gomorrah at three years old. She’s grown up here in this traveling circus of a city. A traveling circus of a city. And this child never, not once in thirteen years, has ever explored more than her own little bubble.
N O P E I N C O R R E C T
I’m sorry, there is absolutely no teenager in the universe that would say, “You know what, while I’m living in this circus city with minimal supervision because my father is busy running this place and my mother-figure is sick, I’m just going to stay in this one little corner and not bother myself with all the things that are going on in the much larger portion of the city. I’m just going to stay here, ho hum, in my tent with my imaginary creatures, while there is a den of sin and debauchery just one block that-a-way.”
And okay, I get it, this book isn’t in our universe. Okay, sure. Fine. But Sorina is, in every other way, entirely a teenager that would exist in this universe. She’s in love with the idea of being in love, she wants her own fairy tale, and she’s grappling with wanting more responsibility and not being given it.
Every other aspect of her character is exactly how a normal teenager acts, except she has no curiosity whatsoever.
She has been raised as a princess for God’s sake. Princess of this entire city and she has no inclination to find out what’s in the Downhill and she is afraid of absolutely everything that ever has or could happen ever. Just, no. Again, no.
Picture this city. It is a perpetually burning city of sin, debauchery, and poses as a circus to get money from the people of the cities that they travel to. There are assassins, there are murderers, and just about everyone has some kind of magic. Now picture its princess. Is she timid? Does she have no idea about what happens in any part of this city?
No, that princess knows what’s happening in her city. She is fearless, she is fierce, and she does not let anyone else tell her how to live her life.
Not Sorina though. She’s just so naive and so unobservant that it infuriated me the whole time. She doesn’t even know what her powers are. Like, she’s the only illusionist in the whole city and she has almost no idea what she can do. She can’t even make one of her illusions without help from her father.
I just kept waiting for her wake-up moment. Kept waiting for her to get her shit together, buck up, and take charge because someone was killing her family but she just kind of passively lets it happen. She gets mad every once in a while, sure, but it doesn’t last. It never lasts.