YA Weekend: Ignite the Sun by Hanna C. Howard
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult
Series: Stand Alone
Publisher: Blink (August 18, 2020)
Length: 352 pages
“Once upon a time, there was something called the sun…”
And with this irresistible premise, Hanna C. Howard’s debut Ignite the Sun had my full attention (though that heart-stoppingly stunning cover didn’t hurt either). The novel’s protagonist is sixteen-year-old Siria Nightingale, who has never once in her life seen the light of the sun or felt the warmth of its rays. That’s because long ago, the kingdom’s tyrannical Queen Iyzabel decreed the sun dangerous and has since used her magical powers to shroud her entire realm in darkness, claiming to protect her subjects.
Still, despite not knowing what a life in the sun means at all, Siria somehow misses the light. Deep down, she also knows she’s different from the other girls at the uppercrust school she attends, and it’s not just because her flaming red hair and freckles make her stand out. She can’t help but be fascinated by the sun, and the only two people who seem to understand this yearning are her best friend Linden and his grandfather Yarrow, who frequently regales the children with stories of the good old sunlit days.
But then came the Choosing Ball, an opulent event in which the kingdom’s elite vie for a place on the royal court. However, what should have been Siria’s opportunity to prove herself instead turns into a night of explosions and complete disaster when she is revealed to be a long lost Sunchild, creatures of pure light magic that have been outlawed by Queen Iyzabel. At long last, Siria discovers the truth of why she’s so different, but now that her identity is out, she is marked for death. With the help of Yarrow and Linden, she manages to escape, but then receives another shock as her traveling companions admit they are not who she thinks they are. In fact, Yarrow is a mage and Linden is a wood elf, and the two of them have been watching over her all these years, waiting to help her realize her powers and return her to her true people.
Over the years I’ve read my fair share of YA fantasy, and in that time I’ve been exposed to a great number of tropes and conventions which the genre has thrown my way, and I have to say many of these can be found in Ignite the Sun. From the exiled Chosen One to the wise old wizard who guides her, much of the book reads like your classic quest narrative and hero’s journey, with very few surprises. Our adventuring party also picks up a couple extra members along the way, including a haughty water nymph and a sweet, young innocent banshee. There’s even a romance based around the tried-and-true cliché of the secret crush on the super-hot best friend, and following right on its heels, the good old “she must break his heart in order to spare him” trope. The ensuing result is this all-encompassing air of sentimental cheese and hokeyness, which I think readers will either find endearing or utterly tedious.
As for myself, I confess to falling into the former camp. Sure, Ignite the Sun might be predictable, but it’s predictable in all the ways you want it to be. The story and its characters are warm, comfortable and familiar, offering lively adventure and gentle laughs. This is the kind of novel you can fall into very easily, becoming swept up in the world, its people and their relationships. While there’s not much doubt at any point regarding the direction in which the plot is going, there are some unique elements sprinkled here and there along the way, spicing up an otherwise average fantasy setting. I found myself intrigued by the concept of a Sunchild, and enjoyed the way all manner of other mythical creatures inhabited this world and had special roles in Siria’s life.
Perhaps it’s not too surprisingly though, that it’s our protagonist’s own personal journey that shines through the most. When the book begins, Siria is a self-absorbed young woman who never questioned the reality of the way things were presented to her, even when all that was wrong was staring in her face. Her only concern was to be accepted, marching in lockstep with Queen Iyzabel’s desires like everyone else clamoring for her favor. Only when Siria has lost it all does she finally realize what truly matters. The transformation is gradual and convincing, ultimately becoming the most inspiring aspect of the novel.
At the end of the day, while I doubt Ignite the Sun will be winning any awards for originality or breaking new ground in YA fantasy, this charming and entertaining debut was nevertheless a joy to read. I believe readers will either love it or hate it depending on how they feel about certain tropes, but being able to go with the flow will surely make it easier to find comfort and a simple delight in the book’s familiar themes.