Review: Burned by P.C. and Kristin Cast

P. C. Cast's website here // $8.45 from {amazon}
Series: House of Night, #7
Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin (April 27, 2010)
Hardcover: 384 pages
Summary: from {goodreads}
Things have turned black at the House of Night. Zoey Redbird’s soul has shattered. With everything she’s ever stood for falling apart, and a broken heart making her want to stay in the Otherworld forever, Zoey’s fading fast. It’s seeming more and more doubtful that she will be able pull herself back together in time to rejoin her friends and set the world to rights. As the only living person who can reach her, Stark must find a way to get to her. But how? He will have to die to do so, the Vampire High Council stipulates. And then Zoey will give up for sure. There are only 7 days left…

Enter BFF Stevie Rae. She wants to help Z but she has massive problems of her own. The rogue Red Fledglings are acting up, and this time not even Stevie Rae can protect them from the consequences. Her kinda boyfriend, Dallas, is sweet but too nosy for his own good. The truth is, Stevie Rae’s hiding a secret that might be the key to getting Zoey home but also threatens to explode her whole world.

In the middle of the whole mess is Aphrodite: ex-Fledgling, trust-fund baby, total hag from Hell (and proud of it). She’s always been blessed (if you could call it that) with visions that can reveal the future, but now it seems Nyx has decided to speak through her with the goddess’s own voice, whether she wants it or not. Aphrodite’s loyalty can swing a lot of different ways, but right now Zoey’s fate hangs in the balance.

Three girls… playing with fire… if they don’t watch out, everyone will get Burned.

Rating: View my rating system.

WARNING: Contains spoilers from PREVIOUS books in the series.
My Thoughts: To be honest, I started Burned with very low expectations. Back when Zoey first became a Redbird and her biggest problem was the mystifying mark on her forehead, The House of Night series was a quickly devoured manifestation of unique ideas and unlimited potential. But potential is unrestrained, so my interest quickly disintegrated when it chose to take the path of Zoey’s doomed love triangles; books three through six involved different guys, same teenage angst. I expected Burned to be a continuation of this trend, but surprisingly – and fortunately – found it to be more of a return to the series’ plot-centric beginnings.

Burned opens with few males remaining: Eric is long out of the picture, Heath is freshly murdered, and Stark is left broken over Zoey’s impending death. The conclusion: Zoey may now practice monogamy – minus the jealous fits and tears. But since we all know how boring monogamy is, the focus shifts to Stevie Rae’s struggle between her new, conflicting feelings over Rephaim and her old sort of-boyfriend Dallas. In the previous books, Zoey’s relationship drama often overshadowed the plot and was characterized by meaningless make-out sessions between various males; in contrast, Stevie Rae’s relationship, though similarly sexual, reached semi-closure in the course of one book and took more of a backstage to the action. It's unusual for me to say this, but I felt the toned down romance was a major improvement.

In terms of writing and narration, I found Burned lacking. The multiple POV’s were an interesting aspect, though slightly disorienting, but did not contribute my enjoyment of Burned – at all. The narration was from different perspectives but the characters’ styles of narration were unexcitingly similar and in third person. I can understand the plot necessity, though it doesn’t change my opinion that the writing and the characters could desperately use more personality and less cliché. In fact, the only character that I felt had any degree of substantiality was Aphrodite. She’s the type of character made so readers can love to hate her and hate to love her, and love her I do. Aphrodite was refreshingly harsh in a world where everything seems a bit too perfect: the self-sacrificing Heath, the unerringly devoted Stark, etc. In Burned, Aphrodite was my fist of reason that I strongly wanted to knock against a few characters’ heads and since I couldn't, I'm glad she sometimes did.

At this point, what I see as The House of Night’s largest flaw is its relentless ability to drag things out. First it was Zoey’s love entanglements, now it threatens to be the Light versus Darkness struggle. Burned hardly mentions Neferet and Kalona and instead chooses to reveal more mysteries regarding the world’s possible demise. While the one aspect I really enjoyed was learning the mythology – especially the extremely vital role of the Scottish – it distracted me from the main evil/good conflict at hand; there are numerous sub-plots and simply not enough time. The lack of concentration in one area lead me to finish Burned feeling like I had just read about the solving of one minor conflict, though admittedly with much more knowledge. Ideally, in their future books the Casts will find a balance between fleshing out the plot with their original, intriguing ideas and pacing the main Light versus Darkness struggle appropriately.

Ultimately, despite my complaints, Burned was new -- period. Its focus on background markedly stood out from its recent predecessors, whether in a good or bad way is objective. For someone like me, who only tolerated Zoey’s indecisiveness and flightiness, Burned was a welcome change. However, it lost some of the series' dramatic tension and suspense, by-products of the strong romance, and breezed through some important past conflicts. Burned's role in the overall series seems to an informational one but as an independent book, the action was entertaining enough to keep my interest.

Romance: A little bit of sexual action, but it concentrates on Stevie Rae's emotional conflict. Given what I've read of The House of Night series already, it's fairly standard.
Cover: 3.0 -- It's pretty (and the inside of the cover is a mini-poster!), but it doesn't say much about the story itself.
Writing: 3.0
Characters: 2.0 
Plot: 3.5

Bottom Line: Burned suffers heavily from a lack of focus and authentic, three-dimensional YA characters; yes, we're partially back to the childish cussing again. However, if you're willing to overlook those flaws in favor of steady paranormal romance and an intricate, unique plotline, Burned may be your form of an enjoyable light read.

Thank you to Tara and St. Martin's Press for the review copy!

**Side-note: I would not recommend reading Burned if you haven't at least read up to the fifth book, Hunted. At the very least, I suggest reading plot summaries of the previous few books.