T.J. Klune is an ambitious author. His debut novel attempts great heights in its 350+ pages, though it doesn’t soar as high as he might have hoped.
I’ve become somewhat critical of urban fantasy as of late. With so many new authors attempting the genre, it seems nigh impossible to find a premise that hasn’t been done before. I wish Klune had pushed further in the UF direction, because there is so much material here that screams ingenuity and innovation. His worldbuilding is good, but it could have been so much better. It’s a rarity for me to yearn for more plot over character development, yet in Burn‘s case, I wanted more explanation, more action.
The prologue is a sucker punch, throwing you straight into Klune’s world and instantly engendering sympathy for the young narrator caught up in a force much larger than himself. I liked Felix from the start, though he tried my patience a few times as the novel progressed. Klune succeeded in the extraordinary feat of securing my loyalty for his narrator not once, but twice, first as a child, then as an adult. I was surprised to see so much time passed before the first chapter even began, yet despite this abrupt skip forward in years Klune excelled in crafting Felix’s voice to reflect the aftermath of what we witness in the prologue. Such events couldn’t pass without jading Felix, and Klune shows us just how Felix’s traumatic past has affected him right off the bat. Felix displayed a nice blend of witty and whiny, and while some readers might be put off by his personality, I found it effective and endearing.
Unfortunately, while the prologue was a great set-up to the story, it also foreshadowed one of the book’s greatest flaws. Whereas most prologues offer a mere taste of what is to come, Burn‘s prologue takes up a considerable amount of page time. I forgave this quirk initially, yet as I worked my way through the book it became abundantly clear that Klune needed a good editor. Burn would have benefitted from losing about a hundred pages, with so many passages retreading the same revelations and emotions that I almost gave up around the 200 page mark. Fortunately, things picked up again, and while many readers disliked the extended flashback section in the middle, ultimately it wound up being one of my favorite stretches of narration. Once I got into the rhythm of continual flashback-present day transitions, I got thoroughly caught up in the story of Seven’s past, so much so that I considered the interruption in romantic development a successful stylistic choice rather than an unnecessary delay. Still, while the overall concept of the section was good, the transitions left much to be desired mechanically.
My second main complaint was the development of the romantic relationship between Felix and Seven. Oddly enough, Klune actually sold me on their connection when they first meet. Despite the incongruous circumstances and their youth, I was willing to overlook one of my most hated tropes, the fated love, because I actually believed that these two people should be together. Unfortunately, once they met up again as adults, Klune lost me for a long time, as the pair’s virtual instalove became monotonous and swamped the plot development for nearly the entire middle portion of the novel. Burn exemplifies the notion that, while a little goes a long way, constant physical affection actually disinclines the reader to feel emotion alongside the characters. Snogging and snarling every other sentence doesn’t go far toward justifying an otherwise unexplored emotional connection. Thankfully, by the end of the novel, I felt that Klune had sufficiently shown the basis for Felix and Seven’s relationship, but this element remained tenuous for too long.
Apart from these main gripes, there were smaller issues sprinkled throughout. The writing was rather sloppy and awkward at points, and the Latin names were too cheesy for my taste. Far too much of the story felt repetitious, and overall the story needed some serious editing to streamline the writing. I also wasn’t a fan of Klune’s hyperbolic verb choices, with Seven alternately barking, stomping, snarling, sneering, and demanding something on every other page. He came across as rather petulant at times.
Despite its flaws, Burn ultimately delivers on its premise. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but suffice it to say that when Klune hides the ball, he buries it under ten feet of cement, builds a highrise on top, and sends you a map to another country. It’s rare that an author fools me so completely, so I take my hat off for a job well done. I hope that Klune casts a more critical eye on his writing for the next installment, but regardless I’ll be there to see where Felix’s story takes him next.