Book Review : Tonight, I Burn

I received this book for free from Orbit Books in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review : Tonight, I BurnTonight, I Burn (Thorn Witch #1) by Katharine J. Adams
on November 7, 2023
Genres: Fantasy, LGBTQ, Wizards & Witches
Pages: 480
Buy on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, or Bookshop.org
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three-stars

A thorn witch with the power to walk between the realms of Life and Death finds herself at the center of a magical rebellion—and a dangerous romance—that could destroy her coven and her soul in this dark and decadent debut.  Thorns, Tides, Embers, Storms, and Ores. All five covens are bound in servitude to the tyrant High Warden of Halstett. 
Penny Albright is a daughter of the thorn coven, forced to patrol the veil between the realms of Life and Death. Each night, one thorn witch—and only one—must cross the veil by burning at the stake. Each morning, that witch draws on their magic to return. Failure to follow the rules risks the veil and risks them all.
But one morning, Penny's favorite sister Ella doesn't return. And that night, determined to find her, Penny breaks the rules. She burns in secret. And she discovers that all isn’t as it seems in Life or Death.  Her journey leads her to Malin, a devastating lord with too many secrets; to Alice, a mysterious captive prophet; and to a rebellion brewing in the shadows beneath the city. And as Penny's world splits, she’ll face a devastating choice. Because it’s not just her sister’s life that hangs in the balance. It’s the fate of all magic. 
All it takes is one witch—and one spark—to set the world ablaze.

 

Tonight, I Burn is a promising debut novel with innovative world-building and magical systems. The novel blazes brightest when showcasing the often complicated bonds between sisters, covering the unique abilities of different covens of witches, and when taking readers beyond the realm of life, and past the veil into death. 

 

I was immediately taken with the world of Tonight, I Burn, which felt like a dystopian universe ripe for a rebellion at the hands of enslaved witches. I really loved the part of the novel which focused on the tensions between covens, the strict practices of the Thorn Witches, and the horror of living under the thumb of an immortal tyrant known as the High Warden. It is a dark world, but the bonds between main character, Penny, and her two sisters feel real in this world that doesn’t offer a lot of love or choice. Especially not for Thorn Witches like them, who must take turns burning and dying so that they can walk into the realm of death in order to repair the weakening veil.

 

“The veil must be protected at all costs, but I can’t let that cost be Ella. I can bring her home. I just have to find a way to burn.”*

 

Tonight, I Burn becomes even more unputdownable as Penny decides to break Thorn Witch law and to venture into the desert wasteland of death after her missing sister, who doesn’t return from a routine burning. Once there Penny stumbles upon a mysterious castle that should not be there. Even more entrancing is that this castle is home to an incredibly handsome young man, named Malin, with unclear intentions and a lot of questions that he shouldn’t know to ask. This part of the novel felt magical to me and reminded me a lot of The Bear and the Nightingale with Vasya and Gorozo’s otherworldly meetings. At this point, I was really hooked to find out what happened next, especially after Penny makes a deal to burn every night and to return to him (and into the realm of death), with the information he seeks. This was by far my favorite part of Tonight, I Burn and I could have read an entire novel centering on solely these events—Penny hiding her burning from her coven, spying for information, and secretly returning to Malin every night.

 

However, this was not be. And as the novel progressed, it seemed to go in many, very different directions. I felt like I could have spent this entire first book (in what I’m assuming is a series), just reading about everyday life in this unique and intricate dystopian world, the sisters, and the covens. I especially would have liked to see more time dedicated to the magical library, the only thing the five covens of witches still share, and that reminds me a lot of Sorcery of Thorns. I was personally sad to see the focus move away from those components of the story, especially because Penny felt so relatable as a bit of a black sheep of her family and coven. Sadly, though I found Penny compelling in the beginning, she falls prey to her own very rash decisions time and time again as the novel continues.

 

“Together, we are strong. Divided, we fall. We were strong once, Penny. He divided us all.”

 

She makes these decisions with her eyes fully open and in spite of people she trusts repeatedly calling her out on her behavior. Despite the warnings from others, she stubbornly forges ahead, feeling more like a very young teenager rather than the older young woman she actually is. I can forgive one or two bad decisions in a novel, but it became rather frustrating watching the constant string of them and knowing it wasn’t going anywhere good. These narrative choices made it much more difficult for me to like Penny and to root for her, especially when she was continually surprised by the obviously negative consequences of her own actions.

 

Similarly, I also struggled with Penny’s romantic relationships in the novel. Though I liked the idea of the relationships, I never really understood why Penny formed feelings for these characters outside of her instant attraction to them and her (very understandable), need for comfort. It just felt to me like some crucial steps were missed along the way to the sudden and very easy intimacies that developed between Penny and her male and female love interests, Malin and Alice. I really wished the novel had taken a bit more time to establish Malin and Alice outside of their interactions with Penny, exploring their backgrounds and motivations, before the two both jumped into a polyamorous relationship with her. 

 

I also wasn’t always quite sure that I fully grasped what exactly was going on. I felt like I understood the world-building, but as the novel progressed, I kept finding out a whole bunch of new information in rather sudden dumps of explanations. Then I was no longer so certain of why events were happening and why specific decisions were being made and presented as the only possible options. 

 

Though I adored the beginning of Tonight, I Burn and I felt like the novel had a lot of great ideas, I think it simply tried to do too many things and went in too many different directions. However, I still think there is plenty here for readers to enjoy, such as queer representation, strong female protagonists, and unique world building. I’d recommend this novel for fans of Susan Dennard’s The Witchlands series or for those who simply can’t get enough of witches. 

 

*All quotes taken from an ARC and subject to change at time of publication.

 

three-stars
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Book Review : Tonight, I Burn - Blogging with Dragons

Posted November 2, 2023 in ARCS, Book Reviews, Fantasy

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