Burn by Patrick Ness
Walker Books, 2020. ISBN: 9781406375503.
(Age: 14+) Highly recommended. It is 1956, the Cold War is at its height, and Sarah Dewhurst's father has decided to hire a dragon to help him work the farm. Sarah and her father are grieving over the death of Sarah's mother and are finding it difficult to cope and the arrival of a blue dragon doesn't help matters. Kazimir, the blue dragon, saves Sarah and her friend Jason Inagawa from a racist policeman, and then tells Sarah that she is part of a prophecy and will be instrumental in saving the world. Meanwhile Malcolm, a young man who is part of a dragon-worshiping cult, is travelling to assassinate Sarah believing that he will be the one to save the world.
Ness cleverly combines details of a universe where dragons co-exist with humans, but where there are alternative universes, where fear of the Soviet Union using a satellite to spy on the United States might escalate into a nuclear war, and where racial harassment is almost a daily event for Sarah and Jason, who are just trying to survive from day to day. Then he adds a LBGTQIA relationship into the mix, making Burn a memorable story, both as fantasy and as historical fiction.
The twisty plot and the surprising creation of an alternative universe make for exciting reading, as it is impossible for the reader to predict what is coming next. Scenes of the devastation that the fierce dragon has wrought across the countryside are vivid. There are many characters, all deftly fleshed out by Ness. Malcolm's relationship with Nelson is handled sensitively and the FBI agents, especially Woolf, are quite fascinating characters. Readers too, will find the comparison of the actions of the different people in alternative universes an engrossing plot device from a master in narrative prose.
Themes of racial discrimination, historical insights into the Cold War and Japanese internment camps, tension between dragons and people and gay relationships all make for a fabulous story. Anyone who loves dragons will be interested in this one and might like to read on with The story of Owen: Dragon slayer of Trondheim by E. K. Johnston.