Book Review: Burn by Elissa Sussman
Burn is the thrilling companion to Elissa Sussman’s masterful and original fairy tale, Stray. This engaging and imaginative continuation of the original fairy tale begun in Stray will appeal to readers of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale and fans of the musicals Wicked and Into the Woods.
After helping to rescue Princess Aislynn, Elanor has finally rejoined the rebel camp she calls home. Stolen from her parents at a young age and forced into service by the Wicked Queen, Elanor now wants nothing more than to see the queen removed from power. But Elanor has secrets, mistakes she’s spent years trying to forget, and the closer the rebels get to the throne, the harder it is for Elanor to keep her past hidden away. Booklist said of Stray, “Sussman delightfully mixes dystopian tension with retold fairy tales, and the result is something wholly original.” Includes a map.
As the description up there tells you, this is a companion novel. The main character from book one becomes a secondary character in this book. This can pretty easily be read as a stand alone novel, though it might take the reader a bit to catch on to what is happening. Elanor and the other Orphans have lived for years in a hidden camp behind a barrier of magic. Now, with huntsmen getting near their border, it appears that the evil queen (the one who stole and abused all of the Orphans) is looking to expand her rule. When Ioan, Elanor’s brother, is captured by the queen’s men, she goes to rescue him, also bringing home Matthias, a young man who was part of the caravan they had just robbed. Elanor and the others come up with a plan to attack Josetta, the queen. We learn in bits and pieces about Josetta’s terrifying rule, her abuse of the Orphans, and Elanor’s experiences while working as Josetta’s servant, where her main role was to taste her food for her. Once they successfully get into the castle, they learn that not everything is as it has seemed. By the story’s end, we know a lot more about what has been happening and what may happen going forward, but it’s clear that another book (or books) will need to answer all of the new questions.
The characters in this book are wonderfully diverse. There’s Dimia, who has very little hearing and communicates via sign language. The Orphans have remade themselves into families, so Elanor’s mom, Tasmin, is her adoptive mother, and her brother, Ioan, isn’t her brother by blood. It’s clear that family isn’t about blood ties but about love. There are many small details that indicate many of the characters are not white—Bronwyn’s dreadlocks, Tasmin, Rhys, and Matthias’s brown skin, etc. We learn that Heck has one leg, that Brigid is in love with Linnea. Heck and Ioan have a bonding ceremony and pledge their love to one another. Elanor and Brigid have a revealing conversation.
“You like princesses?” The look on Aislynn’s face spoke to her confusion. “And Matthias?”
“I like who I like,” said Elanor. “Same as Heck.”
There are many particularly great passages, such as this one:
Elanor loved her body. She loved the muscles in her arms and her legs. She loved the thickness of her thighs and the width of her shoulders. She loved that she could climb a tree faster than anyone else and nearly outrun Dagger. She loved that her stomach had a softness to it, a roundness owed to Tasmin’s food…. She loved what her body could do. It was strong and it was soft and it was capable.
I don’t read a lot of fantasy, but I really enjoyed this story. There are a lot of interesting things going on here with power—only the girls and women have magic and men try to use/steal/abuse this magic for their own purposes. I wanted to know more about all of the characters–both their pasts and how they now relate to one another. This is a quick and satisfying read filled with diverse characters and led by lots of strong (if sometimes rash and foolish) girls and women. It will be easy to recommend this one to fantasy fans.
Review copy courtesy of the author and the publisher
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 01/19/2016
Filed under: Book Reviews
About Amanda MacGregor
Amanda MacGregor works in an elementary library, loves dogs, and can be found on Twitter @CiteSomething.
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