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Hilary T. Smith
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Bryan Peterson
Pure (Pure, #1) - Julianna Baggott Burn a Pure and Breathe the Ash . . . When I was a teenager I uncovered a photo album in my grandparent’s house, tucked into the back of a cabinet, dusty and long neglected under stacks of hoarded papers. The album was full of pictures taken in Japan, where my grandfather had been stationed after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of WWII. It was like looking at stills from a black and white horror film – destruction on a scale I had never seen before, fragments of the devastation captured on paper and stuck into a book. Prior to this, I had known nothing of this part of his life. It was verboten within the family. And turning those yellow pages, I think I began to understand in a very small way part of why he wanted to silence and forget this time of suffering - both for those who were lost and those who survived. But I doubt he ever will, or even can. I mention this because of a statement Julianna Baggott makes in the acknowledgements of Pure around her research, which took in accounts of the atomic bombings and their effects. It’s a sentiment with which I think her character Bradwell would concur: there are horrors we cannot afford to forget. While much of Pure reads like it was spilled from the darkest corners of subconsciousness into a grotesque and unsettling nightmare world, elements of this story are firmly anchored in our own reality, the shadowed parts of our history. Beneath the richly realised post-apocalyptic setting, this is a thematically resonant, futuristic story that echoes our not too distant past. “Dome fiction” is not certainly not a new concept and Pure does not attempt to revolutionise the premise of a select few living in cloistered privilege while the outside world ekes out a life exposed to the (usually hellish) elements. What Pure does do is construct a uniquely disturbing and sinister world, almost dream-like in its surreal elements, maintaining a sense of unease as the reader plunges deeper into the story.There is an atmosphere to this book unlike any I’ve read before: the familiar and the frightening are crushed together into a bizarre symbiosis. The people of this world are similarly affected: horrifically burned, scarred and fused with objects both animate and inanimate, some forced together with other people into irreversible codependence, some enmeshed with animals beyond identification. After the cataclysmic Detonations, the world is startlingly foreign, yet also vaguely recognizable in places. The pervasive, unsettling tone that results is one of Pure’s strongest points, in my opinion. The plot of Pure revolves around two of the central characters, Pressia – a “wretch” with a doll’s head for a hand, and Patridge – a “Pure” from an influential dome family, coming into contact with each other and the repercussions for their vastly different lives. Raised on opposite sides of the dome, their understanding of their own worlds are challenged, and neither will remain unchanged. Pure is (another) multiple viewpoint book, the perspective shuffling through four different third-person vantage points. Honestly, I do not love multiple viewpoint books. I generally find the shifts cumbersome, not always adding much in the way of tone or texture to the story. However, I make an exception here, because while I still was not completely taken with the number of viewpoint characters, I didn’t find it detracted from the story being told. I felt invested in all of the characters, so I didn’t mind when a different person took up the narrative. What makes a “tough” heroine has been discussed at length elsewhere, but as I read Pure I was struck by how Pressia’s strength was developed and expressed. While not physically imposing, athletically gifted, or particularly bold, Pressia’s tenacity in the face of fear and personal doubts were rather moving. My investment in Pressia grew steadily as I read, and I found myself afraid for her, proud of her, even tearing up for her. While it developed more slowly, I found myself similarly attached to Bradwell. Initially, he was a character I found remote, even slightly repellent. By the end, I felt oddly concerned and fiercely protective over this blunt young man and what he represented. I feel that Pure’s largest weakness lay in the occasional over-neatness of the plot. There are a few too many instances of characters who happen to be in just the right place, who conveniently show up in the nick of time, who land in exactly the right spot, who know exactly what to do and where to go. Some segments of the story dovetail a little too neatly to be entirely believable, and the difficulties one would reasonably expect to arise are occasionally glossed over to progress the story. In a similar vein, there are a couple of scenes that read awkwardly to me, given the physical condition of the characters. It was distracting at times when the actions they were described taking seemed at odds with what they appeared to be capable off. I spent what is probably a disproportionate amount of time trying to work out the logistics of Bradwell and the birds in his back, for example, and fearing that the poor birds were getting squashed.Some readers may also have issues with the lack of detailing around the dome itself – how it functions and came into existence. I can’t say that this was a problem for me as I read, but I can understand that some may desire more solid grounding of the world, where I was satisfied with the resultant atmosphere. Pure is an unusual book – at times the characters keep themselves distant from the reader, at times they are touchingly real. The events are by turns disturbing, bizarre and sad. The concepts are complex and twisted. It won’t be to everyone taste. However, it’s these elements that I loved about this story. Highly evocative and beautifully strange, there is an underlying note of relevance that I was drawn to, a depth to the fractured world Baggott has created that I found intriguing. There are parallels to be found in Pure that speak of past tragedies and frighteningly credible future possibilities - things that we can't afford to forget. It’s a troubling, curious and ambitious book – and I was entirely transported. A review copy was provided by the publishers via NetGalley