Book Review: THE BURNING KINGDOMS by Sally Green

Title in s
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 3 stars
Series: yes - last book in trilogy



Book cover for THE BURNING KINGDOMS: title in swirling white on an explosion of yellow and purple

The world has erupted into all-out war. King Aloysius is mining powerful demon smoke and using it to fuel an unstoppable army of children. March, now banished for treason, has joined up with this boy army. Forbidden from ever seeing Edyon again, and overwhelmed by his own betrayal, March no longer cares if he lives or dies.

Catherine–now queen of Pitoria–must find a way to defeat the boy army, while also grappling with her own troubles: her secret demon smoke addiction, and unresolved tension with her former lover, Ambrose. Catherine seeks military support from Calidor by reaching out to her illegitimate cousin Edyon, who has been proclaimed heir to the Calidorian throne. But Edyon has almost no power as he’s entangled in the unfamiliar machinations and manipulations of the royal court, finding that being the claimed son of a prince may be no easier than being a bastard.

With Catherine, his love, now married off and moving on, and his brother and sister tortured and executed before him, Ambrose doesn’t know what his role in this world is any more. He leads an expedition into the demon world, hoping to destroy the boy army’s stores of demon smoke. In this underground world, he runs into Tash, whom everyone had believed dead. She has survived in this new world using magical abilities that, prior to now, only demons had.

Aloysius will send his demon smoke-powered boy army to kill them all, if he can. But what nobody knows is that there is more to the smoke than meets the eye…

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


THE BURNING KINGDOMS is a book that summaries my feelings about the whole trilogy – this is a series with such potential to be engaging and epic and amazing, but falls rather flat in the execution.

It’s a fun enough read, and I did blitz through it in a day, but I was left wanting so much more from the book (and series) by the ending. The enemy are incredibly powerful and the heroes are scatted, divided (not quite leaderless) at the start, and you know going in that this whole book is racing towards the final confrontation. It’s a pretty much foregone conclusion that the heroes will win, as that’s what we expect as readers, but the how is what we don’t know – what we want to find out.

And that how needs to be rewarding. When the stakes are this large, there should be gambles and danger and the heroes acting. They should be earning their happily ever after, should be the ones who cause it to happen. It’s about creating adequate payoffs that match the set up, and that never happens in this book.

The ending is rather a deus ex machina, as it’s a little convenient how the army of boys are just dealt with such that the heroes don’t have to do anything themselves. Instead, they are rid of their greatest threat (who they cannot beat as they are so powerful) without getting blood on their hands. It does rather ruin the tension of the situation and undermine the finale as it’s not the heroes’ actions that saves them the day. Their kingdoms are at risk, but the characters don’t rise to meet it – instead they win by luck that the world has this get-out clause they didn’t know about.

The way the information was revealed was also rather odd. Sally Green writes the character who reveals it through a character that she’s made untrustworthy and who feels like they’ve got a scheme up their sleeve that they’re just waiting to unleash. Tash and Ambrose clearly don’t trust the character either, and so the risks they take on the characters’ behalf seem a little silly when they both say they don’t believe that they will get information once they fulfil the demands. And yet, when they get the information, they just take the information at face value? It so happens to be true, but it didn’t match the build up of duplicity.

The prose is still very removed from the action, which is because the writing style is consistent across the trilogy. Between this and the deus ex machina, it does mean that the stakes didn’t feel adequately met. There should have been a lot more tension at the end to make the finale more climactic, and so it’s not a particularly satisfying last 100 pages – which is a pity as the start of the book had such potential.

There’s some scheming at the start of the book, which of course got me excited. It all revolves around boats and potential aid/alliance between Calidor and Pittoria. There is so much time spent on this in Edyon and Catherine’s chapters, but then it’s simply forgotten in the second half. The boats play no part in the finale, and the alliance is rapidly forgotten about in favour of other plot ideas. It’s another example of elements that are set up and had potential, but just weren’t paid off.

Read my reviews of other books by Sally Green:

The Smoke Thieves (this series):

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