Review: Burn by Patrick Ness – Dragons, Prophecies, and the Cycle of Violence

81GF9aC5zAL.jpg

Title: Burn
Author:
Patrick Ness
Publisher:
Quill Tree Books

Genre(s): YA Fantasy, Historical Fiction
Subject(s)/Themes(s): War, Discrimination, Dragons
Representation: Biracial MC, Gay MC

Release Date: June 2nd, 2020
Page Count: 384 (hardback)

Rating: 8.0/10

addtogoodreads-script_26_orig

 

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. 

CW: racism, homophobia, graphic violence, near-assault

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Ah, Patrick Ness. He never goes for the boring, does he? I so admire his drive to create stories that count for something–narratives that serve as pointed commentary on an aspect of society or of human nature, sometimes via non-human characters (he forever has my respect for choosing to tackle an inverted version of Moby Dick from the PoV of whales)–and willingness to branch out into wild genres and concepts. His ideas are like a mystery parfait. A delicious delight to spoon through.

Burn is unlike any of his previous books, yet so entirely like all of his previous books. Bold and imaginative and doesn’t shy away when faced with tough questions, it comes out on the other side with a strong thematic core, even if it does sacrifice a few things along the way.

It’s 1957 and dragons exist in this alternate world, distrusted and looked down on by human society. There have been major conflicts waged between the two groups across history, but all of that is done and out of the way now, with a peace treaty placing the parties in a cold but slightly less hostile relationship.

There is also a Canadian cult that worships said dragons, but not the dragons directly. They instead choose to worship a human proxy who represents the dragon divinity–never mind the fact that the dragons don’t give a toss about humans, cultists or otherwise, and have no voice in electing this pope figure for their own fan club. Then there’s an end-of-the-world prophecy revolving around the protagonist Sarah (it tickles me that the idea of dragons is shrug-worthy in this world, but prophecies and clairvoyance are considered nonsense. I love an alt-fantasy setting with strict rules and boundaries); a sheltered gay assassin named Malcolm who is determined to stop her at any cost; two FBI agents hot on his trail; one red dragon with sandpaper-dry snark; and an examination of inherited hatred, violence, and the human propensity to hurl ourselves into mutual destruction.

And they all work.

Well, mostly.

Most definitely in the first half, which is a stretch of perfect pacing, great character introductions, and a flurry of events that devolve into heartbreak and anger.

I quite loved the main cast of characters–Sarah’s frustration and empathy, her father’s dilemma, Kazimir’s sass, Malcolm’s innocence warring with his cold violence–even though some we don’t see too much of. I found it particularly poignant how Sarah and Malcolm’s storylines are near-mirrors of each other. How both childhoods were shaped by authorities dictating the paths their lives must take, and the boundaries that can’t be crossed, based on what they are and what they are not. And when it comes to good people doing terrible things, morally grey people doing terrible things, and terrible people doing terrible things, the book knows to make you understand what the differences are.

The second half dives deeper into the major themes, and character work takes a backseat as all the plot threads are gathered into one clear moral lesson: that we must be vigilant of how hatred, including self-hatred, curdles and spreads and ricochets across space and time until we can’t even tell where it ends and where it begins. That’s something you can count on with Ness; things like plot and character might skew sideways, but the point of the story never gets lost.

I do think Burn works better if you look at it as a long parable as opposed as your normal YA fiction. There are definitely questions left unanswered by the end, and the characters brush off traumatic events with concerning ease, giving it the feel of a folktale in which things happen and you just have to accept that they do, even though you’re not exactly sure why.

While it’s not favourite story of his, it’s still a strong, memorable entry into his bibliography that had me ruminating for a while after.

 

871822294f7f1eb7105c1e31dd9e8866_page-divider-clipart-line-dividers-clipart-superb-decorative-_1268-362

Review copy provided by the publisher. All opinions are my own.

Find me (and my art) @aildreda on:

Twitter | Instagram | Tumblr

A Tarot Black Lives Matter Reading Bingo


#NotYourGrandmasBingo

Hello my hippest of friends! Hope you are all having a fabulous day. If so, it is about to get even more fabulous, for today I’m unveiling the Tarot Black Lives Matter book bingo, presented by The Tarot Sequence fandom. This is s reading challenge event running from July 6 to December 6 aimed to help us discover, read, and support Black authors and their work.

Absolutely ZERO knowledge of The Tarot Sequence series is required in order to participate, as the event is meant to be, first and foremost, a celebration of Black voices within the book community. It’s a chance to show our love for Black authors, especially queer Black authors, and encourage each other to read more diversely and smartly, to read beyond the reaches of our comfort genres, and further educate ourselves on the subjects that are raised in these stories. And most importantly, to make that a habit, not just a one-off.

We have created a bingo card with each square corresponding to a tarot-specific prompt (the 22 Major Arcana, plus a few custom additions). After reading a book that fulfills said prompt, you can cross it out. For each filled square you will gain ONE (1) entry, with a bonus entry if the book is LGBTQ+, into a raffle for some incredible prizes detailed below. For each line of five squares in a row that is completed, you will gain an additional THREE (3) entries. By completing the entire grid, you’ll gain a bonus of SIX (6) entries. The overall number of squares you’ve filled out will count towards your ranking, which comes with a cool badge that you can show off for bragging rights.

You can go for as few or as many squares as you want, and you’re welcome to do update posts, TBRs posts, reviews, recommendation lists, and share on your blog and other social media using #TarotBLMBingo.



Rules

  • Books must be written (or co-written) by Black authors.
  • Unless specified, books can be fiction or non-fiction; prose, verse, or graphic novel.
  • Only one square may be filled by a re-read, and each book can only be used once. Multiple books by the same author is perfectly okay!
  • After each book, we highly encourage you to write a review (or draw or film–get creative!) and share on Goodreads, Amazon, and social media (please do NOT tag authors in negative reviews). 
  • Email your bingo cards to tarotsequenceevents@gmail.com, along with country of residence (for prize purposes) and, if you’re comfortable sharing, social media usernames (so that we know to tag you in winner announcement posts).

End date: December 6 (11:59 PM PST)

For more info, please refer to the guidebook pdf attached at the end of the post, which will go into all the prompts, prizes, and more in detail.



Prizes (International + US)

All prizes, unless specified, are available for international participants. And you can, of course, opt out of the prize draw while still participating in the bingo.


  • Grand Prize: A BIG special prize that will be revealed closer to the end date

  • Three Winners: A book purchase up to $30 from a Black author (Book Depository or if in US, from a Black-owned bookstore) 

  • Two winners (US only): A copy of K.D. Edwards’ The Hanged Man (The Tarot Sequence 2)

  • One Winner: A book sleeve

  • One winner (US only): A mini book bundle containing a paperback of Check Please Vol. 2, Fragile Remedy bookmarks, and a small curated tea package

  • One winner: An art commission of anything and anyone (with or without background) by artist @JakeShandy

  • One winner: A podfic up to 10k words (any fandom, requires permission from fic author, preferably no NSFW). Offered by Sam @HeartS530. (Note: a podfic is a fanmade audio recording of a fanfic)

  • One winner: A significant recurring cameo in Book 3 of K.D. Edwards’ The Tarot Sequence



Rankings


5 SQUARES COMPLETE – Elemental


5 SQUARES COMPLETE – Dragon

10 SQUARES COMPLETE – Principality


15 SQUARES COMPLETE – Companion


20 SQUARES COMPLETE – Arcana



Relevant Files and Graphics


Drive Folder (containing all graphics, cards, guidebook): https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/17CVKuhTHw_kx9-PhWjvETb__TCpdT00n?usp=sharing


I hope you can find the time to join us! And if you have any questions you can leave them here below in the comments or contact me on Twitter @aildreda, or email directly at tarotsequenceevents@gmail.com.

Happy reading! ❤

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Portal Fantasy

Diversity-Spotlight-Thursday-Banner
Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

This week’s topic is: Portal Fantasy

Confession: portal fantasy isn’t one of my favourite subgenres. Eighty-percent of the time, I find myself disappointed by it. With many of them, I find the worldbuilding cliched and nowhere near as interesting as high fantasy. But I keep them reading them anyway. It’s probably a leftover desire from childhood to be whisked away from the mundane into somewhere new and magical. So reading these stories is like furiously scratching at an itch that just won’t go away.

These three books, however, put a bit of a spin on portal fantasy. They subvert tropes commonly associated with the subgenre and tackle important personal and social issues that you don’t find in typical Narnia-variants.

Diversity-Spolight-5

A-book-I-have-read2
In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan

With In Other Lands, Brennan takes your stereotypical portal fantasy story, sticks it into a blender alongside themes of feminism, gender roles, sexuality, child soldiers, war, and growing up (just to name a few). The end product is a smart, hilarious, and unexpectedly heartwarming tale about a boy who finds himself in land of beautiful elves and mermaids. Elliot is one of the most entertaining narrators I’ve ever come across–irreverent, anti-social, and sarcastic. Moreover, he’s bisexual and the book actually says the word “bisexual” to describe him, which made me punch the air. It’s a small detail but it’s also a massive one. It’s angering and frustrating to see so much of media just gloss over the word–and all that it entails–like it doesn’t exist. So things like this are not-insignificant victories.

On both sides of the wall were stranger and weirder sights, terrible until you loved them. Our lands were always otherlands, to someone else.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

A-book-on-my-tbr
Beneath the Sugar Sky (Wayward Children 3) by Seanan McGuire

McGuire’s Wayward Children series not only takes a darker approach to portal fantasy, it’s chock full of diversity of all kinds. Since we have to wait until 2019 for the fourth book, I can safely take my time getting to this one.

Goodreads |Amazon (US) | Book Depository

a-book-releasing-soon
The Light Between Worlds by Laura E. Weymouth

Six years ago, sisters Evelyn and Philippa Hapwell were swept away to a strange and beautiful kingdom called the Woodlands, where they lived for years. But ever since they returned to their lives in post-WWII England, they have struggled to adjust.

Ev desperately wants to return to the Woodlands, and Philippa just wants to move on. When Ev goes missing, Philippa must confront the depth of her sister’s despair and the painful truths they’ve been running from. As the weeks unfold, Philippa wonders if Ev truly did find a way home, or if the weight of their worlds pulled her under.

This book isn’t exactly releasing soon, but it’s one of my top five anticipated releases of this fall so I’m going to grab every chance I get to talk about it. Diversity in media is most commonly thought of as LGBTQIAP+, cultural, and gender representation. But I believe mental health issues also belong under the umbrella, and The Light Between Worlds evidently has spades of them. According to the author’s website, the book explores depression, self-harm, PTSD, eating disorders, alongside grief and themes of war. It’s sounds haunting and mixing WW2 and fantasy is just asking me to smash the preorder button.

Releases October 23rd
Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository