Burn by Patrick Ness
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publishing Info: June 2020 by Walker Books
Star Rating: 4/5
Back Cover Summary:
In 1956 Sarah Dewhurst’s father shocks her by hiring a dragon to work the farm. The dragon is a smaller blue rather than the traditional larger reds, though even the reds are now scarce. When the blue dragon, Kazimir, unexpectedly saves Sarah and her friend Jason Inagawa from the attentions of the racist police deputy, Kelby, everything changes. Sarah is part of a prophecy and she must escape the clutches of Malcolm, an assassin from a Believer Cell, the dragon-worshiping cult. When Sarah, Malcolm, and Kazimir eventually converge, they are thrown into another universe, where dragons seem never to have existed. Can they save this world and the one they left?
Patrick Ness’s latest book, Burn, took me on a journey I was not expecting. This is my second Patrick Ness book and I can’t quite put my finger on how to describe his work. He has a unique style and his books always seem unpredictable. Although they do sometimes use tropes (e.g. a prophecy in this book) they seem different to most YA books. This time, he’s taken dragons and put them in 1950s America. That concept alone had me desperate to read it.
Burn imagines a world where dragons are real and are a normal part of life. There has been a truce of sorts between humans and dragons, meaning dragons mostly stick to their own areas. There is a lot going on in this book. We have dragons, the Cold War, FBI agents, a cult and a prophecy. And it works. Patrick Ness has created a world where dragons wandering round rural America seemed totally normal. I don’t want to say too much more about the plot as I think this is one of those books where it’s best going into it not knowing much. At the midpoint it went in a direction I wasn’t expecting and kept me on my toes. There were so many twists and I loved that I never knew what was going to happen next.
There were a lot of characters packed into a short book, so we don’t get to know them in that much depth. But I felt I knew enough about them to be invested in their stories. Kazimir was my absolute favourite character. Patrick Ness does such an amazing job of showing his personality through his body language and facial expressions. Plus, he has some of the best lines. Although this is mostly a serious save the world kind of book, there are also some lines that had me chuckling.
Burn has a diverse cast with Black and gay characters and I didn’t see any problems with the representation but I’m white and cis so I’m not in a position to claim whether it’s good rep or not. Alongside the fantasy elements like dragons, it also explores racism and homophobia in the 50s which Patrick Ness seems to have handled well. I’m glad he didn’t ignore those issues.
The book is written in third person and switches between perspectives a lot. In that way, it reminded me of a movie or TV show, in the way scenes can flick between different characters a lot more than books usually do. I don’t think this style will be for everyone, but for me I enjoyed it and I felt it kept the pace fast.
Burn is imaginative and not entirely what I was expecting, in a good way, because it constantly surprised me. I’ve not read anything else like it. It’s bizarre but totally captivating.