Review of “Burn” by Julianna Baggott

Note: There are some spoilers for the first two books in this series, but none for this one, which completes the saga.

This is Book Three of a standout post-apocalyptic trilogy that goes beyond, and rises above, most contributions to this genre. Moreover, it is not what I would necessarily call a young adult work. While it has young protagonists, it also has a level of sophistication and cynical realism more common to stories for “adult fiction.”

Burn

This dark tale is set in a brutal world following a series of detonations set off intentionally “to start the world over.” The survivors are in two groups. One of the groups had been inside a protective dome before the blasts, and, because they are physically intact, are called “Pures.” Those left outside in the ash-choked destroyed remains are called “Wretches.” The bombs that destroyed most of the world were nanotech-enhanced weapons that disrupted molecular structures. That means those left outside became fused with whatever they were near at the time of the detonations. Some are part bicycle, or flecked with glass, or even fused with one another. Many mothers became fused with their children. The heroine of the story, Pressia, was seven at the time of the detonations, and because she was holding a doll at the time, one of her hands now is the doll’s head. And the hero, Bradford, was running through a flock of birds when the bombs went off; now three of them are part of his back.

In Burn, Pressia, Bradwell, and their friends El Capitan and Helmut (brothers who are fused together) are headed back to the Dome to try to take it down. Presumably Pressia’s half-brother Partridge and his girlfriend Lyda have already infiltrated it and are working for them on the inside. The friends trust Partridge, but he grew up in the Dome, and they have no idea that the psychological terrorism inside the Dome warped its inhabitants as fully (but invisibly) as the physical torments brutalized those on the outside.

On the inside, Partridge flounders: he has no idea who to trust or what to believe, and no one to guide him. He lacks the courage and “street smarts” of those who grew up outside the Dome. Yet, somehow, he is expected, both by his friends outside and the rebels within, to lead the rebellion and help restore sanity to the planet. If this sounds like it leads to a facile and predictable ending, recall that Baggott is not a run-of-the-mill writer. All of the characters are pushed to their limits, and it is only in the trial of fire that we see what each of them is made of. But even then, the best qualities don’t always lead to optimal outcomes.

Discussion: I don’t want to sound fatuous by comparing Baggott to Shakespeare, but she definitely evokes the sweep and timeless themes of the tragedies and romances of Shakespeare, without falling into the trap of treacle or quotidian gap-filling or overused trope exploitation. This trilogy has elements of Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet, and Richard III that make you feel as if you have been given a glimpse of both the depths and heights of the human essence.

At the end of the book, we don’t have all the answers, and we don’t know what will happen next. But we do have an “Act V” to this play, and we have the promise of a new beginning on a different stage. I am very sorry the story has ended; I feel as if I will miss the characters terribly.

Rating: 4/5

Published by Grand Central Publishing, a division of Hachette Book Group, 2014

Note: You can see the trailer for the book here:

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4 Responses to Review of “Burn” by Julianna Baggott

  1. BermudaOnion says:

    I consider you an expert in this genre, which is one I struggle with. Is this the one series I should try?

  2. sandynawrot says:

    I struggle with this genre as well, but I HAVE read a book by Baggott (something in the neighborhood of chick lit) and it was really REALLY good. So…this one does have promise for me.

  3. Trisha says:

    I haven’t read this series yet, so I stopped reading your review at the second paragraph – because I want to read it. I’ve been looking for a new series, and this sounds great.

  4. Beth F says:

    My *only* problem with this book and trilogy is that I WANT MORE. Just finished Burn last night. *Love*

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