Thank you to Orbit Books and Angela Man for providing me with this book in exchange for my honest opinion. Notes From the Burning Age is available now.
Notes from the Burning Age tells a tale perfectly balanced. Humanity has been brought low by the nature it destroyed: no longer does technology rule supreme at the cost of the land. Instead, humans have found a different way to live. They have a newfound reverence for the kakuy- sky, water, and fire spirits. The kakuy are credited with cleansing the earth of humanity’s hubris through fire, drought, or flood. While I found this idea to be an interesting one, the kakuy are not ever really the main focus.
The extremely thinly veiled parallels between what happened in the book’s world and what is being done to ours were written well. The almost-philosophical musings found throughout were thought provoking and utterly fascinating. Somehow, author Claire North merged two very different tales- one of scholarly interest and debate, the other of espionage and danger- into one engrossing story.
The book opens with Ven as a child. His own childhood experience with the kakuy, which cost him his best friend, change his outlook and help shape the person he grows up to become. There are “before and after” parts in everyone’s life: the very moment something shifts and one life is swallowed up by another. The reader has the pleasure to experience this with Ven as he finds himself embroiled in a revolution he didn’t ask to be involved in, one that he is quite literally beaten into joining.
Ven is a disillusioned temple scholar, one who left the Temple after losing faith in both the Temple’s mission and its methods. He is working in a bar when he is contacted by the Brotherhood, an organization that could be seen as extremist. They pressure him into using his Temple skills to translate and verify the origins of “heretical texts”, things from before the worlds destruction that the church considers to be too dangerous for the common man. These texts range from harmless emails to instructions on bomb making. This the impetus for what becomes a fast-moving, edge-of-your-seat thriller. Ultimately, though, everything is a veneer over the true focus of the book, which is the exploration of themes such as spirituality, knowledge (and who should have it), and respect for both one’s surroundings and for other people.
The writing itself is impeccable. A book such as this could easily become too heavy, and either bore or confuse the reader. Claire North kept it moving at a good pace, while also making sure that nothing was ever rushed. The prose was beautiful in an unconventional way. In fact, I would describe the entirety of the book like that: beautiful and unconventional. Combining an interesting and relatable protagonist with a writing like this made for a book that was difficult to put down.
Notes from the Burning Age is unlike anything I have ever read and I had to mull over my thoughts before deciding what I thought of it. At the end of the day, I don’t think a book like this can fall into a “like” or “dislike” category. It is too nuanced for that. There are too many pieces that fit together to make something complex and new. Instead, I can say that it made me think. Ven was the window through which truths and wonderings are explored, in a world that-in some ways- is not too dissimilar from our own.