Review of Burn

Burn
by Patrick Ness
High School    Quill Tree/HarperCollins    371 pp.    g
6/20    978-0-06-286949-4    $18.99

It’s 1957, and Sarah Dewhurst’s father has hired a dragon to work on their farm despite his prejudices against them. That’s not really big news; in this alternate universe, humankind has maintained an uneasy peace with dragons for centuries. But, as Sarah learns, dragons are more complex than she’d imagined — and the situation is more perilous: a cult of Believers, who worship the magical creatures, has sent a teenage assassin to the United States in an attempt to start a prophesied war (though he’s been told his mission is to stop one), a war that will directly affect Sarah and everyone she loves. Nothing is quite as it seems in this imaginative novel. Timelines fluctuate, characters change species, and genres tangle together. However, the plot is solid enough to ensure that, with a healthy suspension of disbelief, readers will follow the story with ease as the stakes get ever higher. Ness’s (The Knife of Never Letting Go, rev. 11/08; Release, rev. 9/17) engrossing historical-fantasy adventure is at once accessible and complex, tackling both human issues — racism (Sarah is biracial; her love interest is Japanese American), war, religion — and grand fantasy action with skill.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Sarah Berman

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