Pure, book one
Headline Book Publishing (2012)
Reviewed by Stephanie Gunn
Pure is the first book in the post-apocalyptic YA trilogy by Julianna Baggott.
Nine years prior, the Detonations occurred. The presumably-nuclear explosions killed many, and those who survived were physically fused to whatever they were holding or touching during the Detonations.
Pressia is an almost-sixteen-year-old survivor of the Detonations who barely remembers the time Before. The bombs left her with a hand fused to a doll’s head and a crescent-shaped scar on her face. Others bear different scars – her grandfather has a fan fused into his throat, and others bear glass or metal in their skin. Some are fused to other humans or animals, and still others, known as Dusts, are fused to the very earth.
Everyone bears marks from the Detonations, except for those who were safe within the Dome. Partridge, the teenage son of one of the Dome’s leaders, is such, without fusions or scars, known as a Pure. Partridge endures his father’s experiments, undergoing genetic coding which he is told is required to make him a better human and soldier. But while he strives to please his father, he also becomes obsessed with the idea that his mother still lives outside the Dome, and begins to plan escape.
The world introduced in Pure is fascinating. The idea of people surviving an apocalypse both within and without a protective Dome, is, of course, not novel. Genetic experiments are not novel. But Baggott has managed to introduce something completely new and evocative with the idea of people being fused to objects in the explosions. At first, seeing Pressia with her doll’s head hand and her grandfather with his fan in his throat, it seems a mildly disturbing concept, but as the reader moves through the book and encounters Dusts fused to the land, people fused to animals and humans fused to each other (including mothers fused to their children) it all becomes visceral and horrific.
Pressia is about to turn sixteen, but a lot of the time her voice sounds younger. In the context of the world of the book, this isn’t particularly jarring – she’s grown up in very strange circumstances, and being permanently fused to a doll’s head you carried as a child would probably do very odd things to one’s psyche. Her young voice only feels truly odd when a thread of romance is introduced. Thankfully, there’s no romantic triangle here, which is truly refreshing for YA right now.
Much of the plotline is somewhat predictable, especially to an older reader who’s familiar with a lot of the genre tropes. However, a younger reader will possibly not have a problem with this, and in all fairness, the worldbuilding more than makes up for any predictability of plot. It feels like this book spends a lot of time establishing the world and setting up a lot for the next two books. The world inside the Dome, in particular, feels like it is just barely explored, and one hopes that this will be explored in more detail in the following two sequels.
Pure’s strengths are in its worldbuilding and in some of the characters. Pressia is, at times, somewhat forgettable as a protagonist, as is Partridge, but some of the minor characters linger in the mind long after the book is closed. In particular, Bradwell, a boy with birds fused to his back, and El Capitan, who has his brother Helmud fused to his back, both are vivid on the page.
Pure is an introduction to a fascinating, gut-wrenching and, at times, completely horrific post-apocalyptic world which will linger long after the last page is finished. The next books in the trilogy will be worth looking out for.