Book Review with James Cross – Burn and Hideous Beauty

The last few weeks have had some major releases and there are two that might get passed over that I wanted to highlight. Technically these are Young Adult, but the distinctions these days with ‘regular’ fiction are blurred, they’re just good stories.

First there is Burn by Patrick Ness. It’s 1957, Cold War America, and Sarah and her father are waiting for their new labourer for their failing farm. Except it’s a dragon.

Humans and dragons have always coexisted in a tense truce. This is, however, the least of Sarah’s worries – she is coping with the loss of her mother, is bi-racial in a time of intolerance, and she’s seeing a Japanese American boy..

Everything becomes increasingly frenetic, splitting the narrative with a dragon worshipping cult member, before throwing in FBI agents, Russian satellites and a huge chase/road trip. All roads lead to Sarah though, as she seems to be at the centre of a prophecy.

The tension in this book is palpable, heart racing at times, but the big climactic events start happening when you’re half way through the book, and then the author performs a spectacular pivot and takes the book in a crazy direction. It’s almost like it was supposed to be a duology, but someone decided to pack it all into a single volume. What works best here, and what I will take away from this book, are the characters and dialogue. The dynamic between Sarah and her dad is especially brilliantly handled At one point I was even rooting for a ruthless assassin- that’s how effective Ness is at populating his worlds!


Hideous Beauty by William Hussey tells the story of Dylan and Ellis’ love affair, their friend Mike’s serious illness and the attitudes of their families to who they are. It could have just been a standard YA love story or a standard YA thriller.

Not only is it both, it rapidly becomes more. The characters crackle with life, the dialogue is so acutely observed you can hear them in your head. Told in two time periods, both are compelling.

A heart warming exploration of love. A treatise on consent and surface level acceptance from those we love. A soul crushing look at grief with a layered central mystery.

It’s not the story I was expecting, but it is definitely was all the better for the surprise emotional journey the book takes you on.

Excellent stuff. It’s one of those books older readers will wish had been around then they were 15.


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