Notes From The Burning Age by Claire North

Posted July 27, 2021 by Kate in review, tour / 0 Comments

Notes From The Burning Age by Claire North

Notes from the Burning Age by Claire North
Published by Orbit on July 20, 2021
Genres: Dystopian, Science Fiction
Pages: 448
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
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From one of the most imaginative writers of her generation comes an extraordinary vision of the future…
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.
“A riveting tale of subterfuge and deadly self-indulgence” (Publishers Weekly, starred review) Notes from the Burning Age is the remarkable new novel from the award-winning Claire North that puts dystopian fiction in a whole new light.

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

One of my favourite genres growing up as a child was sci-fi. Novels, movies, tv – I devoured whatever I could get my hands and eyes on. Yet as an adult, certainly as far as novels are concerned, I’ve grown out of love with sci-fi writing. It’s only upon reading Claire North’s Notes from the Burning Age that I realised why. Sci-fi demands your time. Every page commands your attention. Complex world-building, philosophical theorising and morality debates necessitate a devoted reader. Adult life has made that quite difficult. So, I forced myself to dedicate a solid few days to take in North’s latest, and it was an interesting journey.


Notes from the Burning Age is complex and engaging from the very first chapter. Set in an unspecified future, it’s clear that us lot in the present day didn’t get any better or heed any of the warnings about climate change. Thanks to corporate greed and the egos of those in charge the planet burned, flooded, and cracked apart. Slowly, life returned. Humans rebuilt, regrew, and you would think they learned lessons from their predecessors. But alas, it would seem not. Factions have grown, both with their own set of ideologies, and rather than work together they now seek supremacy. The Council, overseers and rule-makers, have decreed that what brought about the ‘burning age’ is classified as heresy. All information regarding the cataclysmic events that brought about the destruction of civilization is hidden away and protected. Instead, the focus should be on listening to the earth itself and the ‘gods’ that control it the ‘kakuy’. Elemental beings, part mythology, part religious icon, they are the soul of the renewing planet and must be respected and honoured.

However, the Brotherhood, a faction set on uncovering the knowledge of the past, have other ideas. Doubting the kakuy, and fighting the council they set out to uncover the secrets of the past, usually by nefarious means. One of their strategies is to force a young archive priest called Ven to translate and decode the files and data that they steal via their network of spies. A firm believer in the kakuy and the power of the earth itself, this goes against everything that Ven holds dear. But little do the thugs of the Brotherhood realise that Ven is not quite all he seems and has an agenda of his own.


Anyone who has read a Claire North novel before (The Sudden Appearance of Hope, The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August) will know exactly what to expect here. She’s not going to go easy on you and you better be prepared to pay attention from the first page because you’re in for a hell of a ride.  Here is a setting that is quite clearly not an Earth we know, but has enough familiarity to give us a connection. Moments from the last few years are mentioned as issues that contribute to the downfall of the planet, and the files that Ven translates are about things we can clearly relate to. But apart from that, North’s world is complex and at times confusing.

Ven is the narrative voice for Notes from the Burning Age and while this works, for the most part, there are times that it becomes convoluted. North uses Ven’s internal monologue as a tool to develop the characterisation of others within the story. Unfortunately, this often happens mid-sentence and you find yourself having to re-read passages to confirm if it’s Ven’s thoughts or actual dialogue. As Ven is quite the unreliable narrator, this means that the real plot doesn’t become clear until about 100 pages in.

Not only does Ven verbalise the thoughts and actions of those around him, but he also guides the reader around the settings he travels through. At first, this is a welcome insight into this new world we are experiencing. Unfortunately, there are sections of the novel where this ‘Lonely Planet’ style of narration goes on for pages and pages with little action or dialogue driving the plot. Towards the halfway point of the novel, there is a fantastic action scene that really keeps you enthralled, but then that’s followed by chapters of travelling and survival that could really do with some judicious editing. This is a world of scheming spies, double-dealing, and important ethical questioning. Page after page of a character finding different ways to keep warm was not keeping me hooked.

North throws lots of characters at you right from the off, but don’t try and remember them all straight away. Most will be bit-part players. The main characters of Ven, Brotherhood leader Georg and childhood friend Yue are the standouts. I quite liked the morally dubious Georg as you never knew which way he was going to turn. Always a good sign in a villain. Ven’s struggles with his morality are well depicted and you do genuinely sympathise with his plight. Here is a man who has to reconsider everything he believes – something many have been forced to do lately.


Notes from a Burning Age is a prescient look at where we could end up if we don’t treat climate change as the serious threat to our existence that it truly is. At the time of writing, huge swathes of the planet are either on fire, flooding or suffering from crop wastage and shortage due to incorrect growing conditions. This can’t continue, and North conveys this issue without preaching sanctimoniously. I wouldn’t say the novel is ‘enjoyable’ (it’s dystopic fiction for goodness sake) but it’s definitely engaging and gripping.



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