I have been a fan of British-American author Patrick Ness’ books since The Knife of Never Letting Go, which won the Tiptree (now Otherwise) Award in 2008. He also wrote another of my favorite fantasy books, A Monster Calls. His books are marketed for young adults but are deep and complex, and never hold back on the ugliness that some people create for themselves and their children. His teenage protagonists don’t so much learn to get over their problems as learn to go on living anyway.

Burn is no exception, living up to the cover copy which states, “How does the world end? It ends in fire.” It takes place in a fictional 1957 Frome, Washington threatened more by nuclear war than the powerful dragons which have mostly withdrawn to the Dragon Wastes of northern Canada. The end of the world will involve three teenagers; Sarah whose dead mother was Black, Jason whose mother died in a Japanese internment camp, and “Malcolm” who was raised by a pro-dragon cult to be an assassin (and is also gay). There is also Kazimir who, at 200 years old, is probably still a teenage dragon.

If you want a book where teenagers resolve their insecurities by falling in love or becoming heroes, you will be disappointed. This is a rich fantasy full of horror and wonder. It is a story of worlds within worlds, where an ancient rivalry between dragon nature and humanity is played out over millennia and where adolescent problems are just part of life.


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