Review: Notes from The Burning Age by Claire North

Review: Notes from The Burning Age by Claire North

‘Ven was once a holy man, a keeper of ancient archives. It was his duty to interpret archaic texts, sorting useful knowledge from the heretical ideas of the Burning Age–a time of excess and climate disaster. For in Ven’s world, such material must be closely guarded so that the ills that led to that cataclysmic era can never be repeated.

But when the revolutionary Brotherhood approaches Ven, pressuring him to translate stolen writings that threaten everything he once held dear, his life will be turned upside down. Torn between friendship and faith, Ven must decide how far he’s willing to go to save this new world–and how much he is willing to lose.’

Notes From the Burning Age takes place in the world that has grown out of the disasters caused by humankind’s focus on advances in technology, especially destructive features of science that can be used to harm the earth, animals and people. The arrogance of society in believing that it is possible to gain control over nature through technology and adamantly refusing to believe that science can have negative consequences for the natural world leads humankind to build and build, until, according to Temple scripture, creatures called kakuy rose from the land and sought to destroy humans for their hubris. Since then, there remains some debate as to whether the kakuy were a punishment for humankind or a blessing that attempted to restore the earth to how it should be. Fragments of what is now known as the Burning Age remain, in old technology and data that is carefully controlled or no longer understood, and while some humans acknowledge that it is this technology that almost led to their destruction, others appear set on making the same mistakes again and are determined to gain control through whatever means necessary. Notes from the Burning Age is a sharp look at modern society and the patterns of behaviour that humankind inevitably appears to repeat, including elements of our own nature that we seem unable to overcome.

The idea of the kakuy and whether or not they exist is something else that divides the characters – often less whether they truly exist and more whether they are willing to admit that they do. It’s interesting that the reader sees events from Ven’s point of view, and Ven has more than one encounter with a kakuy, yet, given Ven’s beliefs, it is only natural that he would have absolute faith in what he sees and interpret it in a particular way (at least, more towards the beginning of the novel), and so bring the reader into this manner of seeing and thinking too. Others ‘see’ them and insist that they never have, largely for reasons personal to them or particular to their politics, while some believe that their awakening is humankind’s punishment and are respectful not only in religious ways, and the conflict between the different beliefs and interpretations of world events makes the reader begin to wonder whether the kakuy are mankind’s way of explaining away what they have done to the world, or whether they really exist.

Ven’s world is one which seems on the precipice of making the mistakes that have led to the necessity of the creation of new societies and ways of living. Those who are in search of the information from before the disasters are fixated on advances in technology that will allow them to arm themselves and gain power through the threatened destruction of others, having seemingly learned nothing from the mistakes of the past. Their reasoning sometimes leans into accusations that the information that is being protected is being hoarded for the wrong reasons, yet they show no interest in anything except that which could be useful for destructive purposes – and that the information should be shared simply because they don’t like the fact that those with different beliefs have it. Ven’s experience with the various factions and their interactions only serves to highlight that, though one may appear to or suggest that they have better intentions than the others, ultimately there is no singular group that can have the best intentions for the whole of humankind. Even Ven himself finds himself swayed towards particular people and ideas more than once, only further highlighting humankind’s fragility.

Notes from the Burning Age is a brilliant and thought-provoking read that is difficult to put down. A fascinating look at human nature and our relationships with each other and the world around us. Thank you, Orbit Books, for sending me a copy for review.

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