Book Review – Burn by Patrick Ness

books, reviews

Rating: 2 out of 5.

How long to do you struggle with a book before deciding to give up on it? When I was younger, I used to percevier with books I didn’t enjoy just so I could feel like I’d achieved something. Although, that was back during the days when it would take me around a month to finish a single book. Now, my time is so precious that I can’t waste my time on books I don’t like. Although, there are times when I go back into that mindset. I get so far and just think “I might as well get all the way through.” This was one of those times. It took me around a week to get this finished and it wasn’t even that long a book. It’s one that I’ve had on my TBR for a while and one that I was quite excited about. So, what went wrong?

This is only the third Patrick Ness book that I’ve ever read. The first was A Monster Calls, which I thought was wonderful and heartbreaking. The second was The Rest of Us Just Live Here, which I thought was disappointing and kind of boring. It had such a fun premise but it just didn’t take it far enough. Just like that novel, Burn drew me in with the premise because it sounded so interesting. An alternate 1950s where dragons and humans live together. There was plenty of room for Patrick Ness to do something brilliant with that idea. Unfortunately, I don’t think he did. I almost gave up on this book so many times because I was just bored stiff. And no book that promises dragons should bore someone that much.

I will say that it started off really well and I was invested in the story. Set in 1957, we enter a world where dragons have existed for years and live in an uneasy alliance with mankind. Both species have agreed to leave the other alone for the most part. The story mostly revolves around a teenage girl, Sarah Dewhurst. She lives in a small town on a farm with her father. As a mixed-race girl, she is used to being a talking point in her small town but she has no idea that she was mentioned in an ancient prophecy. A prophecy that has also brought a dragon, an assassin and a religious leader to her door. How does Sarah relate to what is happening and what does it have to do with the political situation between America and Russia?

Burn is actually split into two parts and I actually really enjoyed the first half. I loved the story of prophecy and I enjoyed getting to understand the world. I don’t think there was an awful lot of depth to the characters but I was interested to see where they would develop. Of course, the lack of characterisation could come from the fact that there are so many POVs in this book. Each chapter is essentially split between two different viewpoints, which means you never stick with one character for very long. That means, when stuff starts to go wrong, I didn’t really care. I didn’t have time to make a connection or get emotionally connected with any of the main characters.

This is a fast-paced book but not in a good way. There’s no time to breathe and something is always happening. This means that any real emotional beats just feel a bit empty. What were meant to be heart-wrenching reunions were actually just a bit bland because you don’t really know anybody. Burn is definitely a novel that relies on action and plot rather than characters. Although, I don’t actually think the plot was that great either. It just seemed disjointed and a bit messy. Patrick Ness just tried to do too much and it left every plot strand feeling a bit thin and lifeless. There were certainly some valiant attempts to bring in issues of race and LGBTQ+ but they never got time to go anywhere. We were always rushing along to the next plot point.

Maybe this book would have worked better as two novels instead of one? That way the world-building and characterisation could be stronger and each narrative strand could be resolved better. There were quite a few moments when things just happened without adequate build-up. It was just mentioned in the narrative and then we had to accept it. Without any real build-up. It just felt jarring and disjointed. It didn’t feel organic and there were a few occasions of clunky exposition that ruined the pace a bit. Reading this, I got the impression that Patrick Ness didn’t understand what the most interesting aspect of the story was. I mean, he takes us to a world where dragons and people coexist and he gives us 1 dragon. What? Then there’s the fact that the world doesn’t make logical sense and I don’t mean in the sense that dragons exist. I was able to accept that but the little history that we were given was stupid.

I had every hope that I would love this book but I barely made it through the second half. I don’t understand a lot of the choices that Ness made with his narrative and I can’t forgive the lack of depth. None of the characters get any development, the world-building is poor and we see a romance forced into the story without any real build-up. I just couldn’t enjoy this one.

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