Through the Looking Glass Children's Book Reviews

Burning Glass

Burning Glass

Kathryn Purdie
For ages 13 and up
HarperCollins, 2016   ISBN: 978-0062412362

When she was just five years old, Sonya developed the ability to sense what others were feeling. She could read the emotions of those around her and thus, to some extent, to know what their intent was and what they might do. In Riaznin, her homeland, children with this ability, Auraseers, are typically taken from their families and sent to live in a convent where they are trained so that they can control their ability and use it to best effect. Then, when they are old enough, they are sent to the live in the Emperor’s palace, where they serve to identify threats against his life and his policies.

Sonya’s parents decided to hide their child from the authorities and so they sent her to live with the Romaska people. Sonya was passed from gypsy clan to gypsy clan and was not found by the authorities until she was seventeen. Now she is living in the convent with the rest of the Auraseers, and she has realized that her lack of training is a big disadvantage. Her powers are strong but uncontrolled. She can sense the emotions of the dead; dead humans and even dead animals. Even coming into contact with furs and leather and cooked meat give her sensations that are overwhelming.

Until now Sonya’s lack of training has not caused any big problems but then, one cold wintery night, a mob of peasants from the countryside, starving men, women and children, come to the convent. The terrible hunger and desperation of the peasants consumes Sonya. She locks a group of her fellow Auraseers behind thick doors and then goes down to open the convent gates to let the peasants in. Before she can do this wolves attack the mob. Sonya is only able to save one peasant, whom she brings into the convent kitchen. Unfortunately, her compassion leads to a disaster. Because of her untamed Auraseer ability, a fire breaks out. Everyone in the convent is killed by the fire except for Sonya, one carer, and two little Auraseer girls. The blame for the tragedy rests fully on Sonya’s shoulders.

Before Sonya has the chance to come to terms with what has happened, Prince Anton, the brother of the Emperor, arrives. The Emperor’s mother died of poisoning and the Emperor’s Auraseer, Izolda, has been executed for failing to see the danger in time. The eldest Auraseer in the convent will now have to take Izolda’s place at the palace and that person is Sonya.

Sonya has to leave the convent without even being allowed to grieve for the loss of her sister Auraseers, and soon she is racing across the snow in Prince Anton’s troika. The two young people get to know one another a little, and Sonya cannot help being drawn to the young man, who is so hard to read. Anton tells Sonya that she needs to learn how to “find a place of solitude” within her heart so that she does not get lost in the emotions that she is going to encounter in the palace. In particular she has to guard herself against the emotions belonging to his brother the Emperor.

Sonya knows that Anton’s advice is sound, but following it is not easy. She is not used to being around a lot of people and the cacophony of emotions she is bombarded with is deafening. The fact that the Emperor is handsome, charismatic, and passionate only makes things harder because her untamed ability and “undisciplined mind” does not allow her to determine where his feelings end and hers begin. Is she in love with him or is she just being flooded by his feelings of attraction to her?

This exciting and unusual story takes readers into the mind and heart of a young woman who faces incredible challenges on every level. She is given a job that she is quite simply ill prepared to do, and she encounters numerous people whose motives are hard to read or understand. As we read this story it is impossible to predict what Sonya is going to have to face next.