I acquired an arc copy of this through Netgallery.
Release Date: 18th August 2020
‘Ignite The Sun’ is a YA fantasy by Hanna Howard and her debut novel. At the time of writing this review it currently has an average rating of 3.77 on Goodreads.
The story of ‘Ignite The Sun’ follows a young girl Siria who lives in a kingdom constantly shrouded in darkness and can’t even remember seeing the sun. Queen Iyzabel says she shrouded the kingdom in darkness for the people’s protection years ago, but Siria hates the darkness and longs to see the sun that her best friend and his grandfather told stories of. But she’s desperate to please her parents, so she swallows her distaste for darkness and travels into the Queen’s court for a chance to take a place there, however what Siria discovers at the Choosing Ball changes her life and possibly the kingdom forever.
“Everyone’s afraid of things. It’s how you react that makes you a coward.”
I think if this book had been released four to five years earlier than this, many of us YA readers would have been really pleased with this. It follows a lot of the same tropes that were popular a few years ago, i.e. The Chose One, and the writing style feels very reminiscent of authors who were popular then. However, I’m not sure all those things still work in 2020 with YA readers, YA as a genre has moved forward and progressed beyond that and the tropes that were popular then are unfashionable now. I’m not saying this book is bad, I think it had tons of potential and a lack of experience in writing held it back from becoming what it could have been.
The characters including Siria, our female protagonist, in this did have distinct personality traits, however they didn’t feel fully developed. Whilst you could clearly tell all the characters apart and none of them read the same, so the characters didn’t suffer from being so underdeveloped they bled together, they weren’t round characters – they all felt particularly flat. Whilst the characters could and should have been developed further it wasn’t impossible to connect to them, I did empathise in particular with both Siria and Merrall over the backstories and I understood their behaviour. However, that is not enough to save a character from being regarded as flat, nor is it enough to mean they are remembered by the reader afterwards.
The romantic storyline in this also fell flat to me, as whilst Siria falling in love with her childhood best friend and them deciding they wanted to be together was not a bad call – it certainly beats the insta-love we see in a lot of other stories. Linden, Siria’s love interest, could have been a very interesting character as he was not only a wood nympth, but an orphan who was forced to live in darkness for all of his childhood to help find and protect Siria. That could have made for a great character with conflicting views or someone who we explored mental health through, but unfortunately he wasn’t his own character outside of the relationship, and we didn’t know a lot about him or his desires and dreams. It’s a problem a lot of writer’s suffer from and Brandon Sanderson talks about it one of his livestreams. I think I would have enjoyed this romance a lot more if Linden had felt like his own character, rather than just a character whose only role was being a love interest.
However it’s important to note the exploration of family and friends in this novel. The author in particular seems to focus on forming female friendships, and that is seen through Siria, Merrall and Elegy. Whilst the former of the two at first hated each other their relationship did grow and develop into a friendship, in contrast to the immediate almost sisterly-bond we saw between Siria and Elegy. Whilst these relationships weren’t fully developed, nor do I think enough time was spent focusing on the dynamics of the three together just having fun or being friends, it was clear the author had devoted time to these friendships and I appreciate seeing any form of female relationships in YA fiction – especially as the genre seems to always lack it.
The thing I enjoyed most about this book was the world this was set in. Howard has created a world rich in mythology and mythical creatures, and I wanted to know everything about them. Whilst the author took a quite literal take on being able to find light even in the darkest of time, I did really enjoy the idea of there being nymphs who drew their power from the sun as well as a witch who could take over her kingdom by shrouding it in darkness, and using that to alter the perception of her people. It was clear Howard devoted a lot of time and creative energy into building the mythology of this world, you could see it in how she unfolded the Queen’s backstory as a witch, and from how as the characters travelled throughout the land Siria learnt more about what used to exist. I though it was a great spin on traditional fantasy magic and rules, and I think it’s a world she could continue to write in because I’m sure readers would love to learn more about it.
However, the biggest flaw in this book is how sometimes Howard writes in things for convenience or because she’s clearly written herself into a corner. I think my main example of this is Siria’s flying abilities, since she’s connected to the sun she can supposedly reach for it as plants do and fly because of that. I found this ability didn’t really match anyone else’s and by giving her flying abilities Howard managed to overpower Siria as no one else had powers that were even close to flying. It was also used a couple of times in situations where it was clear if Howard hadn’t given Siria these abilities she would have been stuck without them, or would have had to let her friends die. As well as this, there was Yarrow’s miraculous recovery towards the end of the novel when Siria just happened to find his weak pulse when no one one else could. It was clear Howard was scared of killing him off, however I think it would have been a more effective plot point and would have really stressed the malice of the Queen and the danger Siria and her friends were in. Although I do wonder if these problems could been resolved with time and experience as a writer as they feel like mistakes someone new to the industry and profession would make.
This is a debut novel that had it’s flaws, but I do think it has potential and the author clearly has potential as seen by her world building. With more experience I think the author could become one to be reckoned with and she’s definitely one to watch. However, this novel fell a little flat for me, I think too many things are undeveloped for it to be great, and there were avenues I think the author could have explored that would have made this better but she unfortunately ignored them.