Burn
by Ted Dekker & Erin Healy
Reviewed by Scott T. Barnes--editor

Burn reads like a slick bestseller, with fast page turns, snappy dialog, and minimal description. This to me is both a turn on (there’s a reason books like this become bestsellers), and a turn off (they all ‘read’ somewhat alike). But the anti-hero protagonist Janeal and her nemesis Salazar Sanso had as interesting a relationship as I’ve read in a long while. Their love/hate conflict kept me reading late into the night.

First off, this is not really a fantasy story, although it 'reads' like a fantasy and contains one all-important fantasy novum without which the plot cannot take place—which is why it qualifies for a review here. But Harry Potter this is not. In fact, the cover indicates it should be shelved along with mysteries and “Christian suspense.” With Biblical undercurrents throughout, Burn deals primarily with temptation, mercy, and redemption, themes which never felt high-handed. The book successfully strikes a balance between message and story. I have never before read Christian suspense, and found this one quite rewarding.

Janael is a headstrong teenage gypsy living in a gypsy camp in the New Mexico desert. Her father is the head of the kumpanía. Like many teens, Janael longs for independence, a nonexistent luxury for young Rom women. And then, beginning with an encounter she has walking alone in the New Mexico desert, a series of choices come hurtling at her. And Janael chooses wrong each time. These wrong choices begin when she is seventeen and continue through 15 tumultuous years. 

We see Janeal hurtling down the wayward path at top speed and we cry stop, stop, STOP, expecting her to learn from her mistakes, to grow up, but instead she hunkers down and convinces herself that she has made all the right choices, necessary choices at least, choices that offer plenty of success, but no happiness.  

Now, I normally don’t like rooting for the bad guy. I like my heroes à la John Wayne, flawed, but good. But because this story telegraphs that it will be about redemption, I was content to wait for the hero to see the error of her ways, and wait, and wait… I won’t tell you when the moment of truth comes, but it comes late. I just about got ready to put the book down when the plot took a turn and hurtled down the final drop of a roller coaster with me happily hanging on.

And speaking of ‘bad guys,’ the evil Salazar Sanso and his sidekick Callista make the perfect counterpoint to Janeal. I looked forward to every chapter with them in it.
There are a few shortcomings to Burn. The “gypsy” culture is not exploited fully, the “set-up” of the initial conflict was not explained to my satisfaction, and a couple of threads are left dangling. Granted, in real life people drop off the radar all the time, but a book with dangling secondaries leaves an unfinished taste in the mouth, like a sundae without the cherry.

All in all, Burn more than just a good read, it is a book that makes you think about choice and consequence, and that is a good thing.
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