Daughter of the Burning City

      Publisher: Harper Collins 

      RRP: £7.99

      Author: Amanda Moody 

      Published:  2017-09-07




Reality is in the eye of the beholder… Even among the many unusual members of the travelling circus that has always been her home, sixteen-year-old 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 of 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. Now she must unravel the horrifying truth before all her loved ones disappear.


Gomorrah is truly a world of its own.


The world of the Amanda Moody’s titular city is complex and certainly unique. As a toddler, our protagonist Sorina is rescued and adopted by the proprietor of Gomorrah, a huge travelling carnival and festival of sin. The travelling settlement that surrounds Gomorrah is permanently clad in smoke – inspiring its moniker of “the Burning City” - and is populated by a variety of people, many of them jinx workers. Jinx workers have the innate ability to do magic, of a specific sort; some can predict the future or tell fortunes, others control fire or exhibit one of a whole host of other talents on which Gomorrah’s many shows rely.

Gomorrah travels, Up Mountain and Down Mountain, spending perhaps a week in each place. Some towns are pious and judge the residents of the Burning City harshly for their sinfulness, as well they might - Gomorrah is the place to locate a thief, an assassin or a “prettyworker” (whether for sex or for professional companionship), to buy a spell or potion, or to otherwise indulge one’s dark side. Nonetheless, the Burning City is always thronging, although at times, there are uneasy stand offs between the residents and the local law enforcement of the city states through which they travel.

Sorina herself is an oddity, even in Gomorrah. She is an illusion worker, unique among jinx workers; she can create illusions others can interact with, touch, see, hear. Some are temporary, like the moths she uses when she wishes to pass unseen, or the illusions she works in her freak show; others are more permanent. As well as her unique ability to create illusions, Sorina also sees without eyes; her face is smooth where her eyes should be, and this unsettles even the other residents of Gomorrah. She wears a variety of masks to cover the top of her face, and only removes it in the company of very select and trusted individuals.

Over her time with Gomorrah, Sorina has created her family. A father figure, mother figure, siblings, a baby, but all are unique and bizarre creations. Tree is a sentient, well, tree. Nicoleta has superhuman strength, and Crown is covered with fingernails instead of hair. Sorina loves her illusions fiercely, although they bicker like any family. She does not control them, other than being able to shut them away in trunks in her mind for short periods, requiring intense concentration. Sorina’s world is rocked when her illusions, whom she thought invulnerable, begin to be killed; she vows to discover and stop the threat to her family, and meets a strange, frustrating, and oddly compelling young man in her quest to do so.

While it has some surface similarities to other fictional magic-fuelled carnivals, Gomorrah is truly a world of its own, equally in terms of the nocturnal world it inhabits, the moral ambiguity of its denizens, and the political climate in which the Burning City travels. Some elements of this setting are well visualised, but when it comes to Sorina’s family of illusions the reader may struggle to envisage them in their mind’s eye, despite detailed descriptions. Perhaps it is the sheer number of members of her family which makes them difficult to connect with, or perhaps the bizarre nature of their existence and appearance; ultimately, while the reader can empathise with Sorina’s pain and loss and with her determination to protect her family, it is more difficult to actually engage with the loss of the characters themselves.

The success of this engagement varies between family members; for most readers it may well be easier to visualise Hawk, a girl who can fly, than Crown, a gentle soul covered with fingernails. On the other hand, perhaps this is deliberate; the tale is, after all, Sorina’s, and told from her perspective. The reader follows her, as her investigations see her become more involved with the running of Gomorrah, beginning her training to take over as the Proprietor one day. We follow along as she uncovers elements of the city, explores unfamiliar places in the carnival, and both grows, and begins to grow up.

A bold and deeply original tale, Daughter of the Burning City is an ambitious YA debut for Amanda Moody. It is both engaging and unpredictable, with unexpected twists and turns throughout and an satisfyingly gripping and emotional finale. At times, the pace feels too slow and the tale feels overlong, but overall it proves entertaining despite the frequent difficulties with visualisation. While it’s fair to say that it doesn’t quite live up to its publicity hype, the story is unlike anything else currently doing the rounds and keeps the reader guessing to the very last. It will be certainly be interesting to see how Moody develops in this field.