This is what Caraval should have been.
Caraval was compared many times to The Night Circus and then didn’t deliver a circus, so I was wary going into Daughter of the Burning City.
This time, I wasn’t disappointed. Gomorrah is a traveling circus of sin, and it’s the perfect setting for a fantasy murder mystery such as this.
The descriptions and the history of Gomorrah were fascinating. The mystery aspect was well-developed and I didn’t find it too predictable, although I did see some things coming.
I really liked Sorina and her family of illusions. Nicoleta was my favorite, but I loved them all. I was heartbroken when some of them died.
The only thing I really didn’t like was the romance: Luca, the love interest, was condescending and boring. Also, the ace & aro representation wasn’t great. The author said Luca is demiromantic and asexual, but that wasn’t clear from the text – I think she should have used labels.
At some point, Luca says: “I guess I don’t just look at someone and think… attraction […] I have to care about the person first.”
He didn’t specify which kind of attraction, but I saw that a few lines before they were talking about romance. So he’s demiromantic, but not necessarily asexual. Then it’s not clear whether he is on the ace spectrum or not. “Lacks sexual interest” and “not interested in sex” isn’t enough. Asexuality isn’t celibacy or sex repulsion/indifference.
The book never really addressed that romantic and sexual attraction are not the same. If you’re writing aro or ace characters, you probably should.
And then this, which is my main concern regarding the representation (and it’s a spoiler):
Luca is an illusion created to be Sorina’s lover. Sorina’s illusions never “turn out as planned” – that’s why he’s ace/arospec.
“Yes. The boy you made to be a lover. Your illusions never do turn out as planned, do they? From the rumors I’ve heard… he’s hardly much of a lover at all.”
Yes, it was the villain who said this, but it was never called out/contradicted in-text. I’m tired of the trope “I’m asexual/aromantic because of magic/curse”.
Everyone seemed to find Luca’s lack of interest in sex suspicious. Isn’t this a world where queer people are accepted? Sorina is interested in more than one gender, one of the side characters is a lesbian, and no one had a problem with that. I didn’t understand if heteronormativity existed in this world or not. If this world is not heteronormative, then why is allonormativity a thing?
The writing wasn’t bad, but there were some mistakes.
I narrow my eyes. We’re. Not. Friends. “But I don’t have anything. I’ll sell it in Cartona. Then you get your cut.”
Sorina, the main character, has no eyes.
My rating: ★★★½
Have you read Daughter of the Burning City? If so, let me know your thoughts in the comments.