Disclosure: I received a review copy of Burn from HarperCollins Publishers, the publisher, in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.Burn by Patrick Ness • contains 384 pages • published June 2, 2020 by HarperTeen, HarperCollins Publishers • classified as Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Young Adult • obtained through the publisher • read as eARC • shelve on Goodreads
On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957, 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...
Sarah Dewhurst and her father, outcasts in their little town of Frome, Washington, are forced to hire a dragon to work their farm, something only the poorest of the poor ever have to resort to.
The dragon, Kazimir, has more to him than meets the eye, though. Sarah can’t help but be curious about him, an animal who supposedly doesn’t have a soul, but who is seemingly intent on keeping her safe.
Because the dragon knows something she doesn’t. He has arrived at the farm with a prophecy on his mind. A prophecy that involves a deadly assassin, a cult of dragon worshippers, two FBI agents in hot pursuit—and somehow, Sarah Dewhurst herself.
Where Expectations Met Reality
When I first started out reading Burn, I was intrigued. Historical fiction isn’t all too common in young adult publishing compared to contemporary fiction, fantasy and science fiction. History and fantasy crossing paths? Even less so. But Patrick Ness has an excellent track record of meshing various genres and even defying them, so I expected this one to be a hit as well. It wasn’t but I was still glad that he brought his signature postmodern outlook with a touch of whimsy.
Naturally, I was excited to see a biracial protagonist in Sarah. Growing up, I massively yearned for more of that, so nowadays I always do a little happy dance when I find these books. Sarah’s best friend was Japanese. Plus, is it really a Ness book without a queer character? So all the yeses to diverse representation on the page!
Where Things Fell Short
As much as I enjoyed reading how the story unfolded during the first half of Burn, after some time I felt like things were beginning to drag on. In part, that stemmed from the choice to present Burn from multiple perspectives; too many perspectives, in my opinion. Frequently jumping around between scenes became quite jarring. I’d be so invested in learning what would happen next with Sarah, that I almost groaned whenever a new character was introduced.
Whether or not you appreciate multiple points of views in storytelling is down to personal preference. For me, I’m not the biggest fan, so that might’ve contributed to my ambivalence. Although, even beyond my preferences, I thought Burn suffered from this approach as it became a little too fragmented. The character developments felt incomplete and the plot pace didn’t quite hit the synergy it needed to gel the individual points of view together.
My Thoughts and Feelings
When I finished reading Burn, I did so with ambivalence. There was so much going on with the dragons, the backdrop of the Cold War, race relations, class struggle, corruption, police brutality, the search for love and acceptance, impending doomsday, and even parallel universes. Looking at this list, I realise there were a lot of elements that I actively look out for in novels for me to read. Unfortunately, Burn was trying to take on too much, leaving a lot of aspects under developed.
I have to admit that part of why I had such mixed feelings towards Burn was that it was one of my most anticipated reads of 2020. Ness has such a unique take on storytelling and injects a lot of creativity into his books. He did show some of his brilliance with his insightfulness into the human condition but I didn’t think that was enough to carry the rest of the book into four, let alone five stars from me.
If you’ve yet to pick up a Patrick Ness book, and you love multiple perspectives, maybe Burn would suit you better than it suited me. Otherwise, I highly recommend you start with A Monster Calls or More Than This, then pick up Burn.