Wow! Pure is the first modern fantasy novel I've picked up in I don't know how long which has truly gripped me. There seems to be a conveyor belt somewhere routinely churning out awful bland fantasy from writers of very average ability, but I'm delighted to say that Julianna Baggott has broken the mould. Pure is the first book in what promises to be an extremely original, involving and, best of all, well written trilogy for young adults which older readers can also enjoy.
Pure leads us into a dystopian America, shell-shocked by a cataclysm known as the Detonations which has left the survivors genetically mutated and fighting to stay alive in a world choked with ash and inhabited by creatures that can no longer be called human. Only those evacuated to the mysterious Dome were protected from the Detonations and they continue to live in isolation from the devastated world outside, an untarnished people regarded by the survivors with fascination and jealous hatred. The story follows the intertwining lives of individuals from both within and without the Dome as they begin to learn the truth about the world they live in and the complicity of those who run it.
I found Pure instantly engaging and the quality of the writing is apparent from the very first page. The characters are real, you care about them, their universe becomes your universe. There are paragraphs within this book which are written with such beauty and subtlety that they take you by surprise. Pure is full of action and a fair amount of blood, but it never becomes coarse or gratuitous like some out-and-out action flick. The focus is always on the characters - Bradwell with fluttering birds embedded in his back, Pressia with a doll's head fused to her wrist where her hand should be, and the pure and unscarred Partridge Willux. The book's world is filled with a macabre beauty which somehow seems to reflect the real world we live in, although it is so different from our world in so many ways.
Pure gets five stars for how much I enjoyed it and for what it made me feel. Unfortunately, I do have to be a bit critical and lop a star off. The plot, although wonderfully inventive and entertaining, has holes. There are one too many magnificent rescues from the slavering jowls of death, and the conclusions that some of the characters manage to draw from the most paltry evidence is a little too convenient. I suppose I just like my fantasy believable, and it most definitely is possible to create a truly fantastical universe which is still convincingly real - look at Ursula K. Le Guin's Earthsea
series or Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials
trilogy. It seems that Julianna Baggott hasn't been able to devise a way in which her characters can discover what they need to discover, so she's sort of spoonfed them the information they need. There is one particularly silly bit where Bradwell leaps to the most astonishing conclusions in rapid succession (all correct, of course) and I'm really not sure how he did it. It is a shame that some parts of the book such as this seem to be a bit rushed and not properly considered, as Baggott writes with such poignancy at other times. There is one meeting in the book which should have been one of the emotional cruces of the story but, again, it seems to have been written in rather a rush and left me quite cold.
It also seems that Baggott doesn't always trust her reader to pick up on the subtleties of her characters' emotions. El Capitan's feelings towards his brother are complicated, and Baggott uses Pressia to reflect upon the brothers' relationship so that the reader might perfectly understand what El Capitan is feeling and why. This seems a rather indiscreet tactic. It is also quite unnecessary because, in fact, Baggott draws the characters so well and truthfully that it is hard not to empathise with them. Their actions and thoughts are always comprehensible, if complex. I'd much rather get to know the characters slowly, as I would a real person, than have their whims and motives explained to me.
Despite the drawbacks, I loved Pure. It is not one of the "great" works of dystopian fiction in the ilk of George Orwell's 1984
or Aldous Huxley's Brave New World
, nor does it try to be, and comparison is pointless. It is, however, a completely entertaining, electrifying, moving and creative novel with very appealing and believable characters and I can't get it out of my head. I wouldn't be at all surprised if this trilogy really took off and I'd be very interested to see it on the big screen - I've got my fingers crossed that it doesn't end up as a 12A or something. I can't wait to see what else Julianna Baggott has to offer, and the next book in the series is top of my reading list.