SST: A Shadow Bright & Burning (Interview)

Sunday Street Team


We’re kicking off this month’s Sunday Street Team featuring an interview with Jessica Cluess author of A Shadow Bright and Burning! Be sure to check out the other blogs putting up their posts today!




1. It seems like Henrietta will have to do a lot to prove herself as the first female sorcerer, can you talk a little bit about the stereotypes surrounding her and why you decided to make her such a powerful young woman?

Henrietta joins the sorcerers as a young, unmarried girl, which will naturally give her some problems. I thought about certain similarities between her and the young Queen Victoria. Both were young women with little experience, both had to find their way in a man’s world, both had to grow into their roles. I wanted Henrietta to be strong, but also vulnerable. She’s strong-minded, brave, and dedicated to those she loves, yes. But she’s also afraid of the Ancients, she’s never been in a physical battle and she doesn’t know how she’ll handle it, she doesn’t trust easily and she knows that working in this sorcerers’ world means some people will actively try to sabotage her. She feels like an impostor—because she is one—and she makes some very foolish decisions as a result, as well as some brave ones. In essence, I wanted her to be complex, sympathetic, and also a bit exasperating. She’s only sixteen, after all, and she makes her share of mistakes. In my opinion, creating female characters who are flawed as well as sympathetic is how you create well-rounded people we can all relate to.

2. Writing about actual sorcerers isn’t as common in today’s YA. What brought the idea for this book to you, and what made you choose to write about sorcerers?

I wanted a word everyone already knew. Wizards were out, obviously, and so were witches. I originally thought of calling them magicians, but the word sorcerer sounds majestic and a bit intimidating. So I thought that’d be appropriate. The idea of the story all came from a single image of a girl in Victorian dress shooting fire out of her hands, so I knew there’d be magic at play. I just didn’t know what everything would be called, and had to decide as I went along.

3. Can you tell us how your story of “The Chosen One” is different than others out there?

I’ve been pretty blatant in stating that Henrietta isn’t the Chosen One. It’s a case of mistaken identity. While that maybe spoils one of the surprises, I think it’s important to state up front. For one thing, if we just said everyone thinks she’s the chosen one, it doesn’t make the story stand out. For another, Henrietta not being the chosen one isn’t the primary focus of the book. It’s how does she react to that news, and what does she do when she isn’t the one. Also, can a person who isn’t anointed or chosen still be important?

4. Can you give us three characteristics that best describe Henrietta? How about your two male main characters as well?

Henrietta is intelligent, definitely, though it’s more book intelligence than life intelligence. She’s courageous, and she doesn’t trust easily.

As for the boys, well, there’re really three main boys, so I’ll mention them all. Rook, her childhood friend, is patient, loving, but also a bit quick to jump to conclusions. Magnus is charming, extroverted, and impulsive. Blackwood is withdrawn, deeply responsible, and a bit cold.

5. If you could be any character from your book, who would it be and why?

I don’t know, everyone in my book gets kind of a raw deal! I feel most like Hargrove, the sarcastic magician, but I’d prefer to be Magnus, at least for a short while. He’s easy going and always ready to laugh.

6. As a huge fan of Tamora Pierce, how did you feel when you found out she would blurb A Shadow Bright and Burning? It’s a huge honor!

When my editor sent me the blurb, I remember my entire body went numb. I just sat there, blinking at the screen, trying to breathe. She’s the queen of young adult fantasy in many ways, so it was stunning.

7. Writing Fantasy is a whole other ball field of creativity, writing, and selling. Do you have any advice on writing or publishing for other Fantasy writers?

Try to be emotionally invested in what you write. I’d give that advice to any writer, but especially for fantasy authors. Fantasy can be such an odd genre, full of talking swords, hobgoblins, assassins, you name it. If you can’t root all the weirdness in emotions and characters that resonate, it’s going to fall flat for the reader.

About Jessica

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A Shadow Bright and Burning

I am Henrietta Howel. The first female sorcerer. The prophesied one. Or am I?

Henrietta Howel can burst into flames. When she’s brought to London to train with Her Majesty’s sorcerers, she meets her fellow sorcerer trainees, young men eager to test her powers and her heart. One will challenge her. One will fight for her. One will betray her. As Henrietta discovers the secrets hiding behind the glamour of sorcerer life, she begins to doubt that she’s the true prophesied one. With battle looming, how much will she risk to save the city—and the one she loves?

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Praise for A Shadow Bright and Burning

“Cluess gamely turns the chosen-one trope upside down in this smashing dark fantasy.”Publishers Weekly, Starred Review

“Unputdownable. I loved the monsters, the magic, and the teen warriors who are their world’s best hope! Jessica Cluess is an awesome storyteller!”
—Tamora Pierce, New York Times bestselling author

“A fun, inventive fantasy. I totally have a book crush on Rook.”
—Sarah Rees Brennan, New York Times bestselling author

“Pure enchantment. I love how Cluess turned the ‘chosen one’ archetype on its head. With the emotional intensity of my favorite fantasy books, this is the kind of story that makes you
forget yourself.”

—Roshani Chokshi, New York Times bestselling author of The Star-Touched Queen

“A glorious, fast-paced romp of an adventure. Jessica Cluess has built her story out of my favorite ingredients: sorcery, demons, romance, and danger.”
—Kelly Link, author of Pretty Monsters


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