Burning Kingdoms is the second novel in the Internment Chronicles. The novel opens with Morgan Stockhour, her brother Lex and his wife Alice, her fiance Basil Cowl, her best friend Pen (Margaret Artmus) and her betrothed Thomas, Princess Celestine, Judas Hensley who was accused of murdering his fiance Daphne, Daphne's sister Amy and their grandfather, Professor Finnian Leander arriving on land below the floating island.The professor refuses to leave the machine which they used to escape Internment but the rest are immediately taken by car to a large building which they learn is called a hotel in the capital city of a kingdom called Havalais. There they meet a man named Jack Piper who is the adviser to Havalais's ruler, King Ingram IV. Piper has five children, Jack Jr. known as Nimble, Gertrude who is called Birdie , Riles, Marjorie and Annette.
Jack Piper tells them that the hotel is closed for the winter. In the summer people travel from all over to stay at the hotel, view the floating island and visit the nearby theme park. Piper offers them rooms to stay, clothing and invites them to take meals with his children.
Based on what she's seen so far, Morgan believes that Internment is probably slightly ahead technologically of society on the ground. Life on the ground is very different from that on Internment. One thing that strikes Morgan is the amount of open space on the ground. "Even the water on the horizon is gray and white. It sparkles as it fades into the distance. There is no train framing this city. There is no limit. It could well go on forever, to a horizon it would take ten lifetimes to run to." The world on the ground seems boundless. The food is strange, mostly coming from animals, there are birds which are never seen on Internment, people drive vehicles called cars which have black wheels and the people bury their dead in the ground in places called graveyards. The also learn that there is war going on between Havalais and another kingdom. Evidence of that war appears when they see bombs dropped on the city in the distance.
One night Birdie decides to sneak out of the hotel from Pen, Morgan and Celestine's bedroom, and they decide to accompany her. Taking the ferry to the city they go to the cinema and also to a speakeasy where the group drinks gin, something not allowed on Internment.
The next day Celestine informs the group that since she is the daughter of the king ruling Internment, she intends to let King Ingram know that her father will support him in the war. Pen is thankful that the people on the ground are unable to reach Internment meaning that Internment will have little chance of being involved in the war. However, Celestine states that this will likely not be the situation much longer because they have planes that are able to almost reach the floating island.
Celestine and Morgan are taken to meet King Ingram.He questions them about the craft that brought them to the ground, leading Celestine to reveal that Internment has no planes of any kind. Hoping to undo the weakness that Celestine has revealed about their inability to return to Internment, Morgan tells the king that they never intended to return to Internment and consider themselves explorers. Celestine also tells King Ingram that her mother is very ill and is in need of treatment that can be obtained on the ground.
King Ingram realizes that he can use Celestine as a bargaining chip with Internment; her mother is dying, her brother is incapacitated and therefore unable to rule and she has no way to return to Internment. King Ingram tells them that Internment lies in the stratosphere which can only be reached by a special plane called a jet. Development of the jet has been slowed by the war with King Erasmus of Dastor. Conflict over an archipelago that sits between Havalais and Dastor is revealed to be the cause of the war between the two kingdoms. The islands in the archipelago contain a natural substance in their soil called phosane which is capable of providing cheap fuel. Celestine offers her father's help and the use of Internment as a base of operations if they are able to return them to Internment and treat her mother. This request deeply disturbs Morgan.
When Morgan and Celestine return to the hotel, Celestine asks Morgan to keep secret her mother's condition, which she agrees to. Morgan does however tell Pen and the group about what she's learned from the interview with King Ingram. Later when they are alone, Pen questions Morgan about what she learned about phosane. When Morgan insists she didn't learn anything else except that it can be used for fuel, Pen decides they must visit a library to discover as much as they can about this mineral. At the library, their research leads Pen to wonder if in fact Internment was once part of the archipelago in dispute and then broke away into the sky. Pen believes that this is very possible because of the similarities in their soil and rocks. On Internment the rock is called sunstone but on the ground it is called phosane. She tells Morgan that it is what the glasslands on Internment are comprised of and it is what's used to make their betrothal rings. Pen insists that no one must know about this. "If this king knew he had something so powerful hovering right over his greedy head, Internment would cease to be the magical floating island it would fast become a mining opportunity. It would be finished." Morgan agrees to keep her secret.
Pen accuses Celestine of trying to "play queen and save the day" by attempting to broker a deal with the king. She states "I know that it's separate from the ground for a reason." and is worried that linking Havalais with Internment could have serious consequences for their home. Later on while drinking gin at a speakeasy with Pen and Morgan, Birdie reveals that her father is the heir to the throne in Havalais as Jack Piper is King Ingram's illegitimate son by a servant. When King Ingram's wife produced no children, Jack became his surviving heir and is now his trusted aide.
Meanwhile, Celestine tells Morgan that King Ingram does not seem eager for an alliance with Internment and has told her that his focus is on his kingdom. Morgan warns her to expect her plan to fail and that they may never return to Internment.After another meeting with the king, Celestine learns that he is not going to retaliate against King Erasmus.
As winter passes into spring, Pen begins sneaking out and repeatedly getting drunk on gin but when she almost drowns while inebriated, Morgan realizes that Pen and maybe all of her group need to return to Internment. With this on her mind, Morgan makes a decision that may change forever, the destinies of the kingdoms on the ground and floating island in the sky.
Burning Kingdoms is a typical second installment, bridging the story between the first novel and the anticipated final novel in the trilogy. DeStefano focuses on furthering her story line. Once a key element of the plot of Burning Kingdoms is revealed - the presence of the much coveted phosane on Internment, the story follows the predictable path that King Ingram will blackmail Internment into allowing Havalais planes to land on the island in exchange for the return of the only viable heir to Internment, Celestine.
DeStefano doesn't construct the world on the ground in great detail, instead providing bits of information throughout Morgan's narrative. For example, we learn from the group having dinner with the Pipers that people eat mostly animals. Part of the problem is that Morgan and her fellow citizens from Internment spend the entire book in a hotel, with a few excursions to an amusement park, illegal bars to drink gin and the beach and interact with only a select few people from the ground. Even the times when Morgan experiences things unique to the ground such as birds and thunderstorms, the descriptions fail to engage.
Morgan and her friends have escaped the restrictive life on Internment with its rules and punishments only to find that the world on the ground is not what they expected. Very quickly Morgan realizes that "Internment is an imperfect world that sits atop another imperfect world." Not surprisingly we learn that there is a war going on between two kingdoms, Havalais and Dastor. Based on what she now knows, Morgan begins to suspect that King Furlow may have known about the violence happening on the ground and tried to protect his people. "The king was putting people to death for trying to leave, but while his actions were deplorable, I'm beginning to think that he saw this as his only way to protect the city. Keep the people safe. Keep them in the sky. Maybe he saw through the scopes what was happening on the ground."
What Morgan realizes is that King Ingram of Havalais is not much different from King Furlow in that he tells his subjects only what he wants them to know.; King Ingram keeps the presence of Morgan and the others from Internment a secret from his people, deciding that should anyone ask they will say they are relatives from a neutral island called Norsup. When (strangely) the banks are closed after the first bombings which serve as a warning, King Ingram does not tell the people. Instead he waits until a more devastating attack comes, then announces how there is a city atop the floating island, called Internment and how they will share their discoveries to help them win the war. "King Ingram means to announce to his kingdom the news about the jest, now that the country is war-torn and broken and the people are most likely to cling to the hope that there is something in the sky to save them." His decision has tragic consequences for the Piper family and many others in Havalais, it also reveals the king's true nature as a master manipulator keen on retaining power and winning a war at any cost.
All of this leaves Morgan questioning her future. Unlike Celestine, Morgan does not feel that she will necessarily stay in Havalais or in Internment. "But when I look to the future, I'm not certain I see myself here. Nor am I certain I could see myself returning home. I feel very much that I am floating in a sky full of stars, with nothing to cling to."
Overall this novel is a decent effort to further the plot with many revelations about Morgan's family and the world she lives in. Readers will find the pacing off, with the beginning of the novel slow and dreary. What remains to be revealed is the backstory behind Internment's placement in the sky as well as the answers to many other questions. What will become of Internment when the people of Havalais arrive? Will the people of the floating island be able to fend off involvement in a terrible war between two kingdoms on the ground? Will Morgan and Pen return to Internment or choose another path?
Burning Kingdoms by Lauren DeStefano
Toronto: Simon and Schuster 2015