Published by Harlequin Teen on July 25, 2017
Genres: YA, YA Fantasy
Source: eARC via NetGalley
A darkly irresistible new fantasy set in the infamous Gomorrah Festival, a traveling carnival of debauchery that caters to the strangest of dreams and desires.
Sixteen-year-old Sorina has spent most of her life within the smoldering borders of the Gomorrah Festival. Yet even among the many unusual members of the traveling 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 lifelike 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.
Diversity Rating: 3 – Closer to Reality
QUILTBAG: 3 (Sorina is bi, one or two of Sorina’s illusions are QUILTBAG, there are plenty of QUILTBAG people in the background; I take issue with Luca’s asexual/demi identity as someone who is asexual)
Disability: 1 (Sorina has no eyes whatsoever but can still see)
Well, crud. What do I say about Daughter of the Burning City when I’ve already forgotten so much about it as I write this? I’ve gotta review it. Got a review copy, therefore must deliver review if possible–and it’s very possible. It’s just difficult. There’s plenty to like in Foody’s debut novel, but I have some issues too, particularly with Luca’s identity since we fall under the same queer umbrella.
The book starts out strong with its solid worldbuilding and the intrigue of how a mystery person is killing Sorina’s illusions. While she tries to figure things out, Luca the “gossip-worker” who can’t be killed decides to get involved. Whether you poison him or stab him through or what, he doesn’t die–and he’s very good at knowing everything that happens in the traveling festival city Gommorah.
The worldbuilding done as Sorina and Luca search for the killer(s) raises such intriguing questions that it’s a bit sad the novel is a standalone with no apparent plans for other novels set in this world.
That’s all the good I can squeeze out. By the time I was halfway through the book, the characters and dilemma no longer held my interest and I came up with excuse after excuse not to read it. Though I compliment the worldbuilding, I’d forgotten a great deal of it within hours of finishing the book. Half the time, I forget Sorina’s name when recalling the book!
Then there’s Luca, who Foody states on her Tumblr is “ace spectrum (somewhere around demisexual or demiromantic/asexual)” and yet his romantic/sexual identity is still such a mystery to me.
Luca himself says that he’s “always found people’s romantic lives rather baffling. Like everyone was gushing about a song [he’s] never been able to hear” (ARC, p. 252). On the next page, he adds onto it by saying he doesn’t look at someone and feel attracted to them. He has to care about the person before the attraction appears.
Seeing as there’s so little asexual and demisexual representation in all of literature, let alone in YA, it’s vital to be clear in representation, which isn’t happening with Daughter of the Burning City. The above paragraph demonstrates both demiromantic identity (the direct quote) and demisexual identity (the paraphrased quote from the next page) rather than asexual identity. But the words are never used in the book, implying that there are no such words in Foody’s novel. Other characters don’t speak kindly of his identity and lack of romantic/sexual interest in others either.
Being demi and being ace are two different things. Even if you’re demi ace or aro demi, they’re different! Don’t believe me? Go look in on the Riverdale fandom. The character Jughead is canonically aromantic asexual in the comics, but his identity was erased in the show and he gets into a relationship with Betty. Now people who are mad about the aro ace erasure are fighting with people who see him as demi and are claiming him as their representation. Both groups deserve representation and shouldn’t have to fight over who someone represents. Just make it clear in the source material!
We have a hard enough time as it is. God help you if you ever peek into the “ace discourse” tag on Tumblr because you’ll see some nasty stuff from people who exclude ace people from the queer community. We don’t need to be fighting with each other over yet another character whose identity is left unclear.
Rather than getting Word of God representation people have to search an author’s site for or otherwise look to an out-of-text source for, I’d prefer if the word and representation were clear in the text itself.
Without the cloudy state of Luca’s identity, Daughter of the Burning City is a creative, unique debut novel. With it, it’s just another reason I feel wary when a book wants to represent one of the identities under the asexual umbrella. Take it, leave it, it doesn’t make much difference to me. Reviewing this book and trying to put my issue with Luca into words made me tired.