Patrick Ness, Burn, Walker Books Ltd., May 2020, 384 pp., RRP $24.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781406375503
How does the world end? It ends in fire.
Crafted with sophistication, Burn is a story that subtly sneaks across genres. Written by the twice Carnegie Medal Winner, Patrick Ness, Burn is a story that is both unique and enthralling.
It is 1956 and with the Russians set to launch Sputnik, Cold War tensions are high. Teenage farm girl, Sarah Dewhurst, is surprised by her father’s decision to hire a Russian Blue dragon to work on their farm. After the tragic loss of her mother, farm life in the small US town of Frome has been tough, and Sarah is hopeful that the dragon, Kazimir, will help make life a little easier. With the almost daily threat of Cold War Mutually Assured Destruction, the townsfolk are suspicious of outsiders, and a Russian dragon quickly draws the attention of the corrupt and morally questionable Deputy Sheriff Emmett Kelby. Attention that Sarah desperately wants to avoid. Her best friend and neighbour, Jason Inagawa, is also considered an outsider despite having lived his entire life in the US. Kazamir, however, has an alternative agenda, as he knows Sarah is at the centre of a prophesy about the fate of the world.
Malcolm’s childhood was spent training him to be the perfect weapon of the Believers, a cultist group dedicated to worshipping dragons. Now a teenager, Malcolm has begun his journey to find the girl in Frome he must assassinate to put the world to right. Though Malcolm is determined to fulfil his mission, as he journeys towards Sarah’s farm, he discovers the power of emotion and the pull of human connection. His purpose is clear, but his perceptions of reality are challenged. Malcolm must confront his own morality and understanding of the truth.
The character threads of the story are woven together in a surprising and powerful way. The idea of adding dragons to an already terrifying time in history results in a riveting narrative that deftly adds magic to the madness. The story explores questions of faith, as well as forbidden relationships in a time when prejudicial attitudes meant homosexuality and interracial relationships were taboo.
Burn is an engaging read that will appeal to teens and adults alike.
Reviewed by Fiona Miller-Stevens