Burn (Pure Trilogy #3) by Julianna Baggott
Previously published in Dawn’s Books & Authors.
I admit to being a fan of bestselling writer Julianna Baggott’s YA Pure Trilogy. I’ve enjoyed each book greatly for Baggott’s richly imagined dystopia, her conflicted, sometimes unlikeable characters and her constant show of control over the always well-plotted, fast-paced events of each book. The reveals are always steady yet effective, the thoughtful shifts in narrative perspective keep the reader constantly involved, almost breathless and never bored. I have a great fondness for this trilogy - for the dirt and grime of it’s post-apocalyptic ruined world, the grittiness of it’s harsh environs and the terrible, terrible suffering of it’s characters. ‘We know despair,’ says Pressia, the haunted girl with a doll’s head fused to her hand, ‘it’s something we all share’. With this year’s Burn, the trilogy comes to a devastating, crashing end in a perfect cycle of revolution and renewal.
Burn is probably not as satisfying as a stand alone as it is as the final part of a series of books. Both Pure and Fuse are deftly told and fully realised - there’s no reason to not start reading from the very beginning. For purposes for this review, I’ve tried to stay away from major spoilers, but Burn’s story lines are very much leading on from the previous books, each very well woven in with the other. Pure established a world ruined by Detonations, where a few families of select people had been saved inside a Dome from a horrific bioweapon that reduced the rest of humanity to Wretches: fused, malformed grotesqueries of their former selves. Fuse followed the same set of characters as Pure as they attempted to navigate the constant dangers of the outside world and the strange politics of the Dome. Burn brings the same characters through a major upheaval to their final resolutions - not each as happy as they’d hoped. Baggott writes, ’If it’s time to come clean, why don’t you start with yourself?’. Each character must now face their fears and learn their own truths.
Burn begins where Fuse left off, with Pressia, Bradwell, El Capitan and Helmud as the returning avenging heroes, who are on their way back from strange, far away lands. They bring with them the power to take down the Dome and the potential to erase all the damage done to humans outside it by the Detonations. The world of
‘[W]ind, ash, dirt, dark clouds, everything burned and charred and broken’ remains as it was, but now there is potential to balance the equation, to both reduce the Dome to rubble and to elevate the Wretches above their grotesqueries. Is it possible to bring about a balance in society without a violent revolution? Pressia hopes her brother Partridge is able to help her do so, from inside the Dome. Burn lays a great deal of pressure on familial relationships and the responsibility of one sibling to another, or a child to his parent. Young paint-by-numbers bride Iralene is almost sane in her madness when she tells Pressia ‘you’re family. Family is sacred. What’s a home without family?’
But Pressia’s brother Partridge lives in this home with the burden of his final act of betrayal to his father, having to walk in his stead, a path too unknown and dangerous to accept readily, surprised by ‘how loudly a secret can ring in your head’. He is the new leader of the Dome and while he wants very much to make the right decision, a great many forces are working against him, including, it seems, the ghost of his tyrannic, genocidal father, via mechanisms left behind to sway Partridge from doing what is right for those outside the Dome. ‘We are all complicit.’ says Partridge, ‘We let the Detonations happen. We have to be honest. How else can we move forward into the future if we can’t at least acknowledge the truth of the past?’, but it is the burden of his own, personal past that he has trouble acknowledging.
There is major character development in Burn, for each of the people Baggott has followed in the series. Conflict may be resolved but it isn’t always resolve in the ‘right’ way. Conflicted characters may choose their path, but it isn’t always the ‘right’ path and so not every person develops positively, just as they haven’t in the prior two books - they are human, after all, and the world of these books does not allow for everyone to be ‘good’. Survival of the fittest takes on a whole new meaning here, when Baggott reveals which of the Wretches and the Pures are ultimately the ‘superior’ race. Extreme conditions need extreme bodies to survive in the open, and as Lyda says, perhaps it is time to face the truth: ‘The people, the Beasts and Dusts, the deformities, the grotesque…You can’t imagine what beauty there is in their lives. Everything’s dirty and real’.
Lyda is Baggott’s hope for the future. Starting off life in these books as a trapped, shy Pure, incapable of imagining a different life to the sanitised, false environment of the Dome, a person deigned ‘never able to transition back into normal society’, Lyda has emerged as a a true warrior, ‘out in the wilderness, a hunter’, someone who has been able to change her position, accept her new reality in the real world and protect herself from the inevitable, realising that ‘sometimes [shattered] is the right way to feel’. From making her own armour and weapons in the most controlled spaces with the most limited materials, she grows steadily even as she spends time trapped in the Dome again, carrying the only hope for a future generation that can perhaps embrace the divide between the two races.
A great deal happens in Burn. There is violence and death and a huge churning of much discord and emotion. While Baggott has retained her skilful weaving of the various plot lines, she makes certain in Burn that the end of each thread is not nipped clean - there are frays that let you imagine possibility, hope and humanity still to come, no matter how bleak the lives of these characters may seem.