In contrast to The Luck Uglies sequel, Trent Reedy’s Burning Nation is a pretty successful follow-up to Divided We Fall. I think the difference is that this sequel appears to have been planned – it flows organically from the first book, building on the situation while keeping the same thrilling pace and gripping storylines.
17 year-old Idaho National Guard Private Danny Wright and his unit are drawn deeper into the conflict between the newly established Republic of Idaho and the Federal Government. As it escalates into full blown Civil War, Danny’s old high school friends join the struggle, initially as support and later as fully committed combatants. Fractures across other states deepen the crisis, and a darker side of the Idaho resistance emerges.
The plotting in Burning Nation is spectacularly good: the author draws the reader along through the all too believable and inevitable breakdown of law, swiftly followed by the imposition of military governance. Danny is an engagingly committed, yet naïve, protagonist – that he is a key player in this battle feels unnervingly credible – and though he isn’t the most articulate fellow, he gives the reader an absolutely visceral feel of the realities of combat.
Reedy uses a similar structure to the first book, with interspersed news reports and social media commentary giving the reader a perspective on the war that Danny does not have. However, in Burning Nation, this seems to be less about balancing the argument – there’s not much airtime for opponents of the war – and more about showing the apparent inevitability of the collapse of the United States.
There is a lot (a lot!) of brutal violence including our young protagonist killing multiple “Feds” as well as being extensively tortured himself. Danny has something of a conscience about the rampant shootings, though frequently justifies it to himself because the Feds killed his mother. Even so, much of the killing still feels sadistic and like a “badass” videogame, and Cal Riccon is being set up as one who goes too far in this respect. There is explicit reference to Afghanistan and Iraq, and the idea of being perceived as an insurgent or rebel on the one hand, or a terrorist on the other is briefly touched on.
Character development is not Mr. Reedy’s strong point. I found the initial section, in particular, confusing as there are so many characters who are just names; it feels much more comfortable when the cast is whittled down mainly to Danny and his high school friends, though even they feel pretty interchangeable. But I liked that Danny did at least comment on the absurdity of worrying about a love triangle when all is going to hell in a handbasket around him.
It looks like the next book, The Last Full Measure, will not be the closer. I feel that Mr. Reedy knows where he’s driving this series and if he keeps up this pace and the plotting, I’m happy to go along for the ride and I’m sure many teens will be too.