Burn by Patrick Ness
|Burn by Patrick Ness|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: Patrick Ness back to his barnstorming best with a novel set in an alternate Cold War era America, the possibility of a multiverse, racial tensions, homophobia and.... dragons! So much going on here but it's all FAB.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 480||Date: March 2020|
|Publisher: Harvill Secker|
|External links: Author's website|
On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957 - the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America - Sarah Dewhurst waited with her father in the parking lot of the Chevron gas station for the dragon he'd hired to help on the farm.
It's 1950s America but not as we know it. In this alternate US, there is still a Cold War with the Russians, still a concomitant arms race. And the stain of racism is just as crushing - something mixed race Sarah and her Japanese American friend Jason are only too well aware of. As is the deeply unpleasant town deputy, Kelby. But one thing is very different. In this alternate world, there are dragons. The dragons live in an uneasy peace with humans and communication is minimal. But a few of these winged creatures do hire out their labour to human in return for gold - they are dragons, after all.
Sarah's father has hired this dragon in a last ditch attempt to avoid bankruptcy. But when it saves Sarah and Jason from the dangerous attentions of Deputy Kelby, Sarah discovers that the farm is the last thing on the dragon's - Kazimir's - mind. Sarah, it turns out, is believed to be the girl in an ancient dragon prophecy - the girl who will save the world. The Believers, a dragon-worshipping cult, don't want humans to be saved. They want to ignite a war between humans and return the world to dragons. And they have sent Malcolm, an assassin, to kill Sarah before she can fulfil the prophecy.
Can Kazimir save Sarah? And will she save this world? Or any world?
Oh man. I loved it. Absolutely loved it. Burn is Patrick Ness back to his barnstorming best - crammed chock full of action, characters, subplots and at least a dozen kitchen sinks. Technically, it shouldn't work because there is just... so, so much. But it does work. And I think that is Ness's greatest talent as a writer. He can keep countless plates spinning but never lose the quality - the themes, the ideas, and the lovely, special moments of sweet clarity and profundity.
I fell a little bit in love with Malcolm, the Believer cultist, so intent on fulfilling his role in the prophecy but so aware and so regretful. Malcolm is surprised by his sudden rush of love for the boy he meets along the way but readers won't be - they'll know straightaway that love would be the making of him. Obviously everyone will fall a lot in love with Kazimir, the snarky dragon who loves a bit of mystique but whose courage will proved to be unparalleled. And I'm sure others will find favourites among the rest of the huge supporting cast. Sarah, the girl at the centre of the prophecy, is all you could want from a reluctant heroine: dogged, persistent, clear sighted and not a primp or a prink in sight (thank heavens).
It's hard to speak about the themes without giving too much away but Burn talks about American racism, homophobia, international relations and arms races, religion, the possibility of multiverses, creation myths... and yes, see? I told you. It's a busy book! A fabulous busy book.
Also: dragons. What more could a reader want?!
If dragons are your thing, you could also look at the classy Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye by Alison Goodman, set in an ancient Oriental world, drawing on Chines myths and tradition. Complex, vivid, and also with themes of difference and otherness.
You can read more book reviews or buy Burn by Patrick Ness at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy Burn by Patrick Ness at Amazon.com.