I have read two books by Patrick Ness, the unforgettable, award winning YA (Young Adult) A Monster Calls and one of his two novels for adults The Crane Wife.
The first one was written with the help of a powerful presence, in that it was the brainchild of the writer Siobhan Dowd , who didn’t live long enough to write the story herself, requesting that Ness take over and do it for her readers. And what he accomplished as a result was extraordinary, a dark tale featuring a monstrous yew tree that torments a grieving boy.
I wanted to read more, so chose The Crane Wife a modern retelling of a Japanese myth he read as a child. And enjoyed it as well.
Seeing that he had a new book out and being in a reading lull, I decided to read this latest YA novel Burn, a book that features a world where dragons are employed as farm workers and a cult of Believers reveres them, one of the members has been told by their leadership and foretold by a prophecy that he must stop certain events from occurring.
On a cold Sunday evening in early 1957 – the very day, in fact, that Dwight David Eisenhower took the oath of office for the second time as President of the United States of America – 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.
Featuring two dragons, it reads more like realistic fiction than fantasy, I’d hoped the dragon presence to be greater, but it seems we only need a couple to be taught a lesson. We like dragon energy and symbolism here.
Symbolically the dragon brings us a message of strength, courage and fortitude, they are messengers of balance and magic, encouraging us to tap into our psychic nature and see the world through the eyes of mystery and wonder.
The book is set in the 1950’s in America, racism and a mistrust of foreigners brings two young people together; the Russian blue dragon Kazimir (it’s set in the Cold war era) intervenes when the racist, trouble-making Deputy sheriff steps out of line.
“A Russian dragon,” the Deputy said. “In my town. With the way the world is today. You a Communist, claw?”
“I am a dragon,” the dragon said simply.
“You a threat to my country?”
“I do not know. Are you a threat to mine?”
The dragon might be friend or foe, depending on whether you believe Sarah, her father or the sheriff. But for sure, it has something to do with the prophecy that is driving everyone towards their farm for a bit of a showdown.
A couple of FBI agents are involved, creating an atmosphere of suspense as they pursue the person believed to be about to create chaos in their world across the country.
As we read, we are not sure whether the dragons are a force for good or otherwise and that aspect of the mystery carries through to the end and left me wondering whether there might be a sequel to the story as there were many elements and questions I had, that could have been explored, that may have been held back deliberately. Though the mystery is solved, there is a desire to explore further the world that has been discovered.
Teenage Reading and YA Fiction
Interesting for fans of fantasy teenage fiction, introducing historical-political elements about society in that era, the way foreigners and those of colour are mistrusted and maltreated, paranoid attitudes about communism, gay rights and cult fanaticism.
And the superheroes are those of our imagination, fire-breathing dragons and innocent not-yet corrupted children.
Do you like to read outside your normal genre occasionally? Have you read Patrick Ness?