Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smouldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the travelling 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 life like 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.
After devouring one excellent narrative audiobook after another, I was hungry for more.
Seeing that Daughter of the Burning City was available on Overdrive, was a 2017 release, and available on audio for me to borrow from the library, I immediately snatched it up before anyone else could get their hands on it.
I have seen this book in passing on many Booktube channels & blogs and I was only slightly interested in the premise. I adored the cover though, even the audiobook cover which is significantly less quality.
✔️ Bisexuality — Sorina, the main character, is Bisexual. Loves men and ladies!
✔️ Demisexuality — Luca is demisexual.
✔️ Anxiety/Panic Attacks — Sorina has anxiety, mentions it frequently, and has panic attacks.
✔️ Lesbian — Nicoleta, Sorina’s sister, loves girls.
What I wanted, no, craved from this book was the LGBTQIAP+ representation. I was surprised to get not only that but also some anxiety representation!
It is so unbelievably hard to find actually someone I identify within literature. Though it was not the perfect representation, I was really pleased with everything. I really liked how it was just commonplace in Gomorrah to be gay and that was it. I also loved Sorina and Luca as characters and they are my babies, okay?
World Building, ie. Where the Hell Are We?
The majority of Daughter of the Burning City is set in the festival of Gomorrah, a city that is perpetually seemingly on fire, with its skies covered in smoke. Gomorrah is darker, and seemingly more sinister than its surrounding cities that it travels to which are more religious and strict (did I mention it’s a traveling city?). Gomorrah has an almost seedier underbelly called the “Down-Hill,” where sex workers, thieves, and assassins roam the streets.
Let’s Meet the Characters, ie. New Book, Who Dis?
Sorina, our sixteen-year-old main character, and point of view. Sorina is an illusion worker, which basically means she can conjure anything she puts her mind on, whether corporeal or not. She can also disguise herself and others using her illusions.
Sorina has what she calls, a “deformity” where she has no eyes, but flat skin in their place. She can still see, however. There is no real, concrete explanation to explain this, other than perhaps extra plot stuff that would constitute as spoilers. This could be some sort of message that people with deformities still go about life, albeit in their own way or I could be reading into things too much. I can’t speak on that further, as I do not have a deformity.
Sorina has created the living, breathing illusions that she considers family. There’s Gill, the father/uncle figure, Nicoleta, the mother figure, Crown, the grandfather, Hawk, the younger sister, Venera, the older sister, Uno and Duo, the cousins/little brothers, Blister, the baby brother and Tree, well, the tree. They all work in a “freak show” in Gomorrah to survive. She also has others who she considers as her family, including her adoptive father, Villiam, Gomorrah’s proprietor, and Kahina, the fortune-worker.
Luca is a self-proclaimed gossip worker, has a mysterious past and a way about him that Sorina can’t quite pinpoint. He lives in the Down-Hill.
Plot Stuffs; ie. What the Heck Is Happening?
I loved pretty much all of everything that went on in this novel; it kept me guessing, dropped appropriate hints and clues, and I was figuring it out along the way with Sorina. I did have my suspicions throughout of who was involved in the killings and they proved to be accurate.
The plot does have some slow areas at times, which made the novel drag on a little bit. It didn’t hinder my experience of it though, it gave more time for development of character and the world.
Along with the basic plotline, as stated in the description of this novel, there was this overarching political plotline of the world that played a role in the story. At the time of this all being revealed to the Sorina, it seemed to be a little info dump-ey and was complicated to follow. Especially when listening to an audiobook where you can have a tendency to zone out. I thought it was a great attempt to add an extra layer to the story, though it didn’t quite meet its mark.
I wish there was more exploration and I could read a whole series that delved into aspects of the world beyond Sorina and her family. If Sorina had been less oblivious to the world outside of her own doorstep, we could’ve gradually been introduced to the political and interesting potential of the world.
Reading vs. Listening
As mentioned above, I read this book on audio. It was narrated by Emily Woo Zeller. She honestly did a decent narration, she spoke clearly, for the most part, and she had voices for the characters.
I had a couple issues with the narration, however. I found that it was hard to hear her narrate certain sections because she was saying something too quietly because the story prompted her to whisper or mumble. It was hard to hear clearly what the character was saying because of that.
Another issue I had was that it was hard to discern what was being said in the story vs. what Sorina was thinking, and Sorina does think of things she would say before she actually says something different. I was a bit confused on that front. Overall, I enjoyed the audiobook experience.
What I Loved
- Sorina and Luca as characters were both really well developed as the story went on and went through major growth that I was really pleased with
- Representation; LGBTQIAP+ & anxiety
- The plot was very engaging, I was glued to the story at every turn, and it kept you guessing
- The world was weird and eccentric
- The story was not afraid to show horrors, let their characters curse and be angry, and not gloss over grief & sadness
What I Did Not Love
- Sorina’s illusions and the magic surrounding them are slightly confusing and as a reader, I couldn’t really understand how they worked so that hindered the believability a bit
- Sorina lived in Gomorrah most of her life and traveled a lot with the city, so it seemed a little unbelievable that she was not as aware of the underlying conflicts between Gomorrah and the “Up-Mountain.”
- Gomorrah as a city seemed a little bit “too good to be true,” in the sense that Gomorrah had so much influence as a roaming city, yet it could still be pushed around by the other cities and citizens of Gomorrah could be killed/injured by Up-Mountain officials. Sorina explained at some point in the novel that Gomorrah had influence over the cities, but at other points, she said that Gomorrah was toeing a very thin line from being completely wiped out by the Up-Mountain
- Some of the characters, like Hawk, I feel weren’t fleshed out enough. They either didn’t experience any growth or were only spoke of or told to the reader by Sorina. These characters become pivotal to the story so it’s weird that we have no characterization for them
All in all, I really loved Daughter of the Burning City. The story was unique and packed with a lot of lovable characters. Although it had moments where I was confused, it didn’t impede my enjoyment. I do recommend this book for anyone who is tired of the tropes in Young Adult fantasy and are looking for a diverse read.