I’ve been taking a break from genre fiction after a bit of a dystopian overdose, so when I picked this one up I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel about going back there. Happily, Burn Mark can hold its own in these increasingly crowded ranks. The premise is intriguing, set in a alternative version of modern London where ‘the burning times’ of 17th century England are vividly remembered and the descendants of those long-ago witches and witchfinders are still locked in an antagonistic, but symbiotic, relationship.
The story revolves round a pair of 15-year-olds, Glory, the down-at-heel descendant of a long line of famous witches and Lucas who has been groomed to succeed his father, a powerful and influential Witchfinder. When they both get the Fae that marks them out as witches it is an expected and much-wanted occurrence for Glory, but a source of horror, confusion and shame for Lucas. Thrown together as unexpected allies in the fight against corruption in high places, they discover they have more in common than they could have guessed.
Burn Mark is slow to get started, but by the time I was half way through I was thoroughly gripped. I liked the way Powell has used the historical background to give depth to her alternative reality. The large cast of secondary characters are well-drawn and convincing and the central pair of Glory and Lucas have enough hinterland to make them feel like proper teenagers. Straddling the genre boundary between dystopia and thriller with a bit of history thrown into the mix, and with a point of view that switches equally between the male and female protagonists, Burn Mark should appeal to a fairly wide cross-section of readers in the 12-15 age group. Health warning though: the novel opens with a rather gruesome depiction of a witch-burning, so take care about recommending it to very sensitive children.
Burn Mark – Laura Powell, Bloomsbury, £6.99