November 18, 2013

Courage found in ‘The Burning Sky’

Posted in Between Us column, Books, Women at 10:35 pm by dinaheng

Fantasy, romance and a touch of reality blend nicely in a new young adult novel that author Sherry Thomas calls the beginning of a reverse “Harry Potter” series with a cross-dressing heroine.

In “The Burning Sky” ($17.99, Balzer + Bray), Iolanthe Seabourne is the most powerful mage of her generation, prophesied to defeat the Bane, a dictatorial mage who controls The Realm. To protect her, Prince Titus of Eberon cloaks the girl as a fellow teenage student in his very all-boys boarding school in southeast England, present day.Dinah Eng

In J.K. Rowling’s series, the adventures of a wizard and his friends unfold in a magical realm where they take joy in escaping, for a time, the muggles’ world, where ordinary beings don’t have magical abilities. In Thomas’s series, the magical characters take refuge in our reality as they try to fight the wrongs in their magical realm.

“The Burning Sky” is the first teen novel for Thomas, author of historical romance novels including “Private Arrangements” and “Not Quite a Husband.” She says she had never thought about writing for teens, but her agent had talked with an editor at a publishing house who suggested that her voice would work well in a young adult novel.

“The third time the publisher asked whether I was working on anything for young adults, a sentence fell into my head,” says Thomas, who lives with her family in Austin, Texas. “ ‘On the night I was born, the stars fell.’ I was walking into a Costco when it happened, and when I got home, I did some research and found that the last meteor shower happened in 1866.”

Thomas was familiar with life in the 1880s because she’d researched and written novels  set in that time period, so started creating a fantasy romance series that became The Elemental trilogy. The series chronicles a secret revolution brewing in the Mage World, led by a girl and a boy who join forces to overthrow the tyrannical overlord.

Cover photo of "The Burning Sky" by Sherry Thomas, courtesy of Balzer + Bray.

Cover photo of “The Burning Sky” by Sherry Thomas, courtesy of Balzer + Bray.

Science fiction and romance novels have always appealed to the author, she says,  because their stories are all about overcoming challenges and succeeding in life.

“I think of readers as falling into two camps — one likes to read about the world as it is, and the other likes to read about the world as they’d like it to be,” Thomas says. “I fall in that second camp. In genre fiction, it’s about whether you do what’s right. If you take the right path, do the hard work and follow your heart, everything will come out all right in the end.”

Things have turned out well for Thomas, a Chinese American who immigrated to the United States when she was 13 years old and learned English by reading numerous science fiction and romance novels in her youth.  She attended English as a Second Language classes in middle school, and by 9th grade was placed in regular classes.

Thomas was a 23-year-old stay-at-home mom when she read a historical romance one day as her son was napping.

“As I read it, I thought, I hate this book,” Thomas recalls. “I was so angry at how bad the book was, and how it had stolen my time. So I told my husband, I think I can write a better book. It took eight years, and I discovered how hard it was to write even a bad book.”

Thomas went on to win two RITA Awards for outstanding published novels from the Romance Writers of America, named for the RWA’s first president, Rita Clay Estrada.

“The theme that appeals most to me in fantasy and romance is finding your courage,” the author says. “It’s about that place when you start something, and you’re not sure you have what it takes to do something you’ve not done before. Courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the willingness to do the right thing, even though it’s difficult and you’re afraid.”

It’s also what Iolanthe Seabourne and Prince Titus must do if they are to save the Realm and each other in “The Burning Sky.” For a suspenseful and sweet tale, this book is well worth reading.

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