on 5 December 2011
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.
Dystopian fiction is rarely a barrel of laughs, but 'Pure' is probably just about the darkest, bleakest speculation on humanity's downfall I have read. This is a distressing book in so many ways, not least because the cruelty displayed by some of its characters is all too plausible. It rivals 1984 in its bleak analysis of the human condition.
'Pure' is set after the 'detonations', a cataclysmic chemical and nuclear fire-bombing of the entire planet (we assume). The fortunate ones were sheltered in an impervious dome, the rest were left to fend for themselves with the promise that 'We will one day emerge from the Dome to join you in peace' there is a heavy suggestion that those inside are God's chosen few.
The story begins a decade or so after the detonations, and follows Pressia and Partridge Wilux (who rivals Ender Wiggin for a 'most ridiculous protagonist name' award). Pressia lives outside the Dome in a ruined city with areas such as the Meltlands and the Deadlands. Partridge lives safe inside. Pressia lives with her grandfather, eking out a hand to mouth existence, bartering and trading favours to survive. Partridge is the son of the Dome's designer. All children in the dome are subjected to genetic recoding; enhancements to make them more useful to the rarefied society in which they life. Rather inevitably, Partridge is unhappy with his lot, and devises a way to escape.
The power of 'Pure' is derived from Baggott's evocative descriptions of the world outside of the Dome. Everything is broken; nothing works as it should. Almost nothing can be grown, the ground is so contaminated. The inhabitants themselves are broken, both mentally and physically. Such was the power of the weapons used in the detonations that survivors found themselves fused to inanimate objects. Pressia has a dolls head fused to her hand; a hated reminder of a lost time. Throughout the book, treasured pets and loved ones have become attached to the wretches in the city outside the dome; the love/hate dichotomy this creates makes for some powerful writing. It is a highly original and discomfiting device.
It is not giving away much of the book to say that Pressia and Partridge meet. After initial mistrust, they discover they have more in common than they have any right to expect (this does stretch the novels credibility at times). Together with an intriguing, compelling and more than a little disturbing ensemble cast, they attempt to explore their shattered pasts, in the vague hope of understanding their parlous present.
There are similarities between 'Pure' and Suzanne Collins' highly entertaining The Hunger Games series, but where Collins books are about a plucky individual sticking it to the man, Baggott's novel is a much more subtle examination of the disintegration of society; the world that she has created is credible throughout. Broken bodies, broken bones, broken hands on broken ploughs, broken treaties, broken vows and people bending broken rules; it's all here. Everything is broken. Baggott weaves a terrific tale in the aftermath of destruction. 'Pure' is 'The Hunger Games' for grown ups
Though its pace is sometimes a little slow, 'Pure' is a highly absorbing novel. It is also the first in a proposed trilogy, something that only became apparent to me, as I approached the novel's end, and realised there was no way it could all be wrapped up. The novel's finale is open, and as hard-hitting and emotional as the rest of the book. It also proves that Baggott can make unflinching decisions about the fate of her characters. 'Pure' is a fine novel and a must for all lovers of dystopian fiction. I look forward to the arrival of part two.
on 18 August 2012
Pure describes a post-apocalyptic world in which a small number of 'haves' live in a sealed Dome, whereas the majority of the population struggle for existence outside the Dome, with a variety of deformities. The story follows people both within and outside the Dome, and the ways in which their lives intertwine.
The story is a very ambitious one, and highly original. There are elements of Cronin's 'The Passage', as well as elements of Stephenson's 'Anathem'.
However, sadly there are also some flaws. The characters are generally very well drawn, but Baggott negates this strength far too often by using what I think is one of the most annoying literary devices: she uses one character to explain what another character is thinking. Perhaps, to give the author credit, she felt this was necessary for a YA audience, at which this novel is directed. Even so, I think she should trust her readers and her characterisation more.
Also, the plot has some serious holes. The protagonists are saved from danger on the thinnest pretense, and the characters seem almost omniscient sometimes.
Overall, I did enjoy this book, but found myself feeling like it could have been so much more.
on 5 January 2012
I need a holiday, a nuclear holiday, but after reading Julianna Baggott's `Pure' I think I will avoid having my body fused to a household object. `Pure' is set in the near future on an Earth devastated by a series of nuclear strikes. The vast majority of the world's population are dead, but some survived. Most are now mutated, having to live off the sparse land and fight the various radioactive monsters that roam the plains. However, a chosen few bunkered down within a giant dome, here they live separate lives as healthy human beings promising one day to leave their dome and help the mutated, but will they?
There is so much to praise in Baggott's novel in terms of world setting. Baggott paints a vivid society of haves and have nots - the rich and the poor. There is a bleakness to the book that is compelling and the various mutations are described brilliantly. The afflictions are strangely compelling i.e. a boy with birds in his back. The dome world is also well developed and produces its own kind of hell.
Therefore, it is a real shame that the characters and storyline fail to live up to the setting. As individuals the characters work, but once they interact with one another you are made well aware of their comparably young ages; 16 to early 20s. This means the story becomes all puppy love and teen angst, not something I care about when the world is in danger. The story also begins to slide as the book reaches its conclusion. I started reading `Pure' believing it to be a standalone title, but as a solid conclusion slipped further and further away the books inevitably ends with the horrid words "end of book 1". Baggott would have produced a far tighter and exciting book had it been a standalone story. As it is, nothing finishes and the book may as well end mid-sentence.
Despite misgivings about the `Twilight' nature of the characters and the failure to conclude the story, `Pure' is still an interesting book and will interest science fiction fans, especially younger ones.
The author paints a convincing and harrowing picture of a post apocalyptic United States following the 'detonations'. The world is comprised of two separate and separated groups. There are those outside of the dome, known as the wretches, who struggle to survive in a hostile environment where crops will not grow and cities are ruins. Those outside have physical damage from the detonations, including fusion which has joined them to inanimate objects which were near them at the time of the explosions or to other living creatures. It is not entirely clear why this has occurred but it seems to be related either to the effects of atomic explosions or as a result of nanotechnology included purposely in the detonations.
The group inside the dome are 'pure' as they are apparently the fortunate ones who were within the dome at the time of the detonations and hence untouched. They are regarded with a mixture of envy and almost religious fervor by those outside. However, the dome is far from a utopian society and the inhabitants are manipulated, programmed and modified in a nightmarish Orwellian scenario. Hence the choice is between two different varieties of hell although, of course, no one has a choice as to which group they are part of.
Once the story gets into gear it involves a group of people comprised of a pure and several wretches, on a mission outside of the dome which I will not go into detail on, not wishing to spoil it for others. However, I found this tale thoroughly engrossing if rather depressing. Anecdotally during my first session on the book I was so involved that I went beyond my station on the way home - I cannot remember ever doing this before! Ultimately the story comes down to the basic concept of man's inhumanity to man and the struggles of a few basically good people to overcome adversity against formidable odds.
Julianna Baggott has succeeded in writing a story which is unique and which most readers will find hard to put down. The conclusion opens the way for additional books and I look forward to reading the other two parts of the trilogy as I believe this is what is planned.
This book presents a terrifying post-apocalyptic world, where a privileged few escaped to The Dome immediately prior to The Detonations. Contrast these "Pure" with other survivors ("wretches") - burned by nuclear bombs and fused to anything (or anybody) they might have been carrying or touching at the time by nano-technology.
Pressia lives on the outside; like other children on the outside, she envies those inside the Dome and wishes she could be like them. Partridge on the other hand lives inside the Dome; he is afraid of the "coding" he receives (will he lose his individuality?), and misses his mother, whom he thought dead but now believes must be alive on the outside.
Partridge escapes from the Dome; and when he is struggling to survive in the strange world outside the Dome, Pressia is the one to help him. Gradually they discover that it is more than mere chance that has brought them together.
This is an absolutely brilliant dystopian story. The damage done to people and things after the Detonations is richly and inventively (and scarily) imagined, reminding me of China Mieveille in a way no other author has ever done!
It is also a coming of age story - as both Partridge and Pressia have to re-evaluate what they have been told about their respective childhoods and almost invent themselves anew.
This story is complex and multi-faceted; I particularly liked the feeling of uncertainty that runs through it - who can they trust? whose stories are true?. Young adult fiction, yes, but bold enough and rich enough to hold the adult reader. A truly wonderful story - easily my favourite read of 2011.
NB: I normally HATE books that don't tell you up front that they are part of a series. However, this book has none of the weaknesses of you expect of the first book in a series (too much scene setting / character introduction); it stands as an exciting and complete story. It was only in the last 30 pages or so that I realised there was too much going on to end it all now ... and I eagerly await the next instalment!
on 19 December 2011
This on the whole a gripping, absorbing book with a- again, on the whole- relentlessly maintained, bleak post-apocalyptic atmosphere. I say on the whole, because from a SF purist's point of view there are some niggling flaws, but first the praise.
We are dropped straight away into a world devastated by a nuclear holocaust of some type, in the near to middle future, around it appears, the area of Washington DC. The world is devastated and burnt, dust and ash filled reminiscent of `The Road,' and full of human mutations ranging from the relatively `mild'- people fused by the heat [and something else?] to ordinary objects around them at the time of the blasts [`the detonations'] or even other people and animals, to the outright appalling and dangerous fusions of former people with wild animals and even the rocks and ground [`the Dusts,'] who live in the wastelands.
Central to this is Pressia, a teenage girl living with her grandfather, in the shadow of the Dome, a protective shelter for what appears to have been a scientific, pseudo-religious elite. Inside there is the son of one of the Dome's luminaries, Partridge, who finds out that his mother may still be alive out there amongst what they call the Wretches, and so manages to escape in order to track her down...
I'm not sure how this was marketed in the US and as it's not published here until February, I don't know what the strategy is in the UK, but this is very much an advanced teen/young person's book as a fully-fledged adult one to my mind. The plot is therefore rather predictably as a small group of teens come together in a combined mission with differing aims, and the inevitable boy-girl love affair is developed [though not interestingly with the person you first suspect]. The tension and atmosphere is maintained for most of the book with an expert hand though, and I personally was fascinated with the world created here and more specifically, how it had come about, as the reader is feed tantalising snippets of information about the build-up to the Detonations and the rationale behind them.
So for me this was a veritable page turner and a highly recommended read for anyone aged 14 plus. Because I read this eagerly over a few nights it therefore seems churlish to point out the weaknesses but I do have a couple of niggles.
The story loses a fair bit of momentum towards the end and the climax is a little lacklustre, as if the author ran out of energy. This is clearly the first book of a series though, so a `wrap-it-all-up' finale was never on the cards I suppose. There are also too many `all hope is lost' conflict situations our heroes find themselves in, when the cavalry in some form or other, arrives- increasingly implausibly- at the last minute to save them. Also crucially for me, despite the solid, convincing day-to-day reality created here, the `global' picture is surprisingly vague, even a little weak. The Detonations were clearly the work of a `local' elite who wanted to wipe the slate clean and start again, but the rationale of this doesn't seem to translate easily into a world-wide event, as a conventional clash of nations is apparently ruled out. So is the Dome and the wretches huddled around it really, plausibly, all that's left of mankind?
The way things are explained, I find it hard to believe, and so the book moves more into the area of fantasy rather than hard SF because of this, although to be fair this area of the overall Detonation concept may well be explained in later books.
Also for this SF buff, the technology behind the Detonations isn't worked through enough- there are hints of nano-technology being involved in the bombings as well, which sound like neutron weapons rather than bog-standard nukes- which would explain the rampant, almost fantastical level and types of fusions a bit more fully rather than just straightforward radiation [as actually did occur on a smallish scale at Hiroshima and Nagasaki], but the hints are never fully realised and fall by the wayside, which is a shame.
But enough of then niggles. If these had been ironed out a bit more, this would easily have been a five-star SF classic, and it still has the potential to be that I think, if the series is allowed to develop more fully. I suspect though it will be anchored firmly in the advanced teen market though as it does develop, but that's no bad thing.
So, highly recommended for the totality of its post-apocalyptic atmosphere alone- give it a go, whatever your age.
on 2 July 2012
This is one of the most haunting books I have ever read. There are pieces of it which are stunningly beautiful in the author's capture of humanity's fight against dreadful odds and her description of the post-apocalyptic landscape. There are also pieces which are terribly depressing. There are scenes towards the end which made me want to cry, I felt so deeply for the characters involved.
The story essential covers the post-apocalyptic aftermath of a series of Detonations which reduce the world to nothing but glass, ash and dust. These Detonations appear to be a kind of awful culmination of atomic and nano technology causing the survivors to fuse to things within their immediate vicinity at the times of the blasts. I found the scenes with the mothers perhaps the most touching of all. There are some who have survived in a radiation-proof dome, the leaders of which are attempting to create a "new eden" for these few to emerge back into. The rest who were left behind have been left to fend for themselves by this awful distopian society. We meet Pressia, Blackwell, Partridge, Lyda and El Capitan/Helmud. The characters are wonderfully evolved, I genuinely cared for every one of them.
I found it difficult to believe this novel is rated as a YF novel as there are some really serious adult themes covered in it. Although I believe it to be incredibly important that children understand and respect the events of our history, this is perhaps a little too harsh for younger readers.
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It is haunting, gripping, beautiful, timeless, disconcerting and so much more it defies classification. I can only stress again and again that this book is unlike anything else out there. To truly understand the breadth of this novel, it will require many re-reads. Highly, highly recommended!
on 1 May 2014
I usually don't have problem suspending disbelief when reading books, but this one was just too far for me, so I finished the book, but only just. The fusion of people with various animate and inanimate objects (without killing them) was just too far. It didn't make sense, so I couldn't accept it, even though I read lots of fantasy and scifi. I guess (hope) that this strange feature would be explained in later books, but since i found it so hard to read, I won't be bothering with the later books.
The Wool series was a MUCH better modern post-apocalyptic series IMHO.
Pure is a book set in the harrowing aftermath of a global cataclysm; its world is typically a bleak and empty one. The shattered remnants of the local authorities are engaged in child snatching for sinister reasons; the cities are shattered ruins, the land and water poisoned and, in some cases, actively hostile. The survivors shown to us in the text are just that - unflinchingly portrayed as barely eking out an existence, all crippled, physically and spiritually, by their continued existence in a world which has largely been reduced to a wasteland.
In contrast to the physical bleakness of the survivors world the reader is given The Dome, a sealed environment which the devastation, somehow, did not touch. The people inside are clean, healthy, and happy - at least physically. The Dome exerts a pull over the minds of the survivors outside, a mixture of rage, hope and fascination which the author captures magnificently.
And into these intermingled worlds, of the Dome and the shattered outside, are thrown several teenagers, all of whom are struggling to define, in some way or other, who they are, and if what they believe about the world is true.
The author manages to write a remarkably compelling piece; I came in expecting a fairly typical coming-of-age novel with a little dystopian flavour, and came away in parts intrigued, disgusted and harrowed. This examination of a society after a nuclear firestorm is compellingly unflinching. The central characters carry a little of the `teen adventurer' about them, but this is gradually filed off as they move through the world. This text is, in some parts, an exploration of social, psychic and physical damage - and there isn't too much room there for the titular `Pure'.
I won't give the story away, but will note that it starts off rather slowly, gradually acclimatising the reader to the characters and their new world(s) , before ratcheting up to a surprisingly tense and fast-paced second half. The prose itself is well conveyed, the language clear and concise, with each character a unique voice - even the minor characters seem unique.
My only (slight) complaint was the discovery at the close of the text that it is to be part of a series; however, it works perfectly well as a stand-alone novel, so this is really a minor issue.
Overall, this is a wonderful portrayal of a shattered world, the death and growth of hope, and the capacity of humanity to perpetrate great acts of evil, and small acts of good. Certainly worth the read - just don't expect to have an easy time of it.