A little belated due to some havoc on the trainline last night, but today it is my pleasure to be joining the blog tour for Burrowed by Mary Baader Kaley which was released by Angry Robot Books on the 10th January 2023.
Please check out the other blogs involved in the tour.
Disclaimer – I received a copy in exchange for an honest review, all thoughts are my own.
If you had to endure a debilitating condition of body or mind, which would you choose? In this world, everyone suffers.
In the far-future aftermath of a genetic plague that separated human society into two different groups – sickly yet super-intelligent Subterraneans and healthy but weak-minded Omniterraneans – a brilliant Subter girl is tasked with fixing the broken genetic code to reunite the two groups in the next generation.
But when a newer plague turns fatal for the surface-dwelling Omnits, the only group able to reproduce (giving birth to both Subter and Omnit children), Zuzan must find a cure or humanity won’t simply remain divided, it will become extinct.
But there’s more conflict at hand than a broken genetic code. The fragile connection between Subters and Omnits has frayed to the point of breaking – to the point of war – and it will take more than genius to repair; it will take heart.
This has been a challenging review to write, because even though the premise sounded absolutely up my street it transpired that I was probably not the ideal reader for this book.
Firstly, the positive. This is a strong debut and has sat the groundwork for future books in this world very well. The style of worldbuilding is fairly sparse, but Kaley does an excellent job of building up the division that has separated the world; and creating that dystopian feeling, with a looming threat and the constant, gnawing knowledge that the world is at odds with itself which I feel is often a key element of dystopian books. It would have been nice to have a bit more detail on the worldbuilding, but it does feel like there is more to come in this series, and we had more than enough to build up a layered impression of this world and the societies in it; and a lot of the worldbuilding was dedicated to the science which was at the heart of the story.
Now, I can’t speak to the accuracy of the science involved here – I did Geography, not biology or anything like that, but it works here because Kaley has made it not only plausible but integral to the world. It isn’t a separate thing, but literally embedded into the divide between the people below and above ground, and into the efforts to bridge that gap, and it is also a driving force for the characters as individuals, but also in their overarching goal, and that made it easier to be invested even without any more detailed knowledge.
However, I will say on the flipside, it was also the scientific element that was the main issue for me, and this is purely personal preference – and why I was not the right reader – was that this book is quite technical. I knew there would be some element of that through it being sci-fi, and the fact that genetics played a role in everything, but it was just too technical for me and pulled me out of the story as it felt like it was drawing away from the fictional element. These scientific elements were interesting, and I particularly enjoyed that the author gave room for discussion and debate, it wasn’t just black and white, and the way it was used added medical thriller to the blend of genres involved in this book.
It also felt very dialogue heavy for me, and I know that there was a lot to talk about in this book and that there had to be that dialogue to work through the division that had occurred in the world. But it needed to be balanced out a bit more with description or action, as there were places where I felt a little like I was sat between two people bouncing a ball between them and just turning from one to the other, without really engaging with them.
That said, this is a character-driven story, and while it took me a little while to connect with Zuzan she did grow on me as a character, and she was probably what kept me the most immersed in the story, although I think she might be a more polarising character – and I would hope to see her grow and develop more in future books, but in Burrowed I felt the author did a fantastic job of balancing her youth, with her incredible intelligence and her experience of the world and those around her. I will also say Kaley gives us some fantastic emotional beats, and while I wasn’t completely sold on the relationship in the latter half of the book, I think the points of connection were well done and with time that relationship could become a lot more solid.
The ending left me a little conflicted. On the one hand, it felt a little too abrupt – but if there are more books to come, then that isn’t so much of an issue as the threads would be picked up, although there were quite a few that are waiting for that. However, I really liked the discussion about teaching and being a teacher at the end, between Kriz and Zuzan, and that conversation was one of my highlights of the entire book, and for me it gave emotional resonance to a lot more of the book.
While it turns out I wasn’t quite the right reader for this book, there are still elements that I loved, and it was a great debut. I think anyone who enjoys dystopian fiction and medical thrillers will want to give this book a shot, and if you lean more towards the harder end of sci-fi. This is also a great book for anyone that wants a read that will make you think and would be great for discussion and debate because Kaley does do a fantastic job with the exploration of medical morality and that is a fantastic connection point for real-world debate.
Mary Baader Kaley writes stories for children and adults with quirky characters whose huge hopes and dreams drive them into impossible situations. She loves the sound of spring crickets, the colors of the fall, and shady porches in between. She spends summers healing her soul over a small Midwestern lake upon a rickety pier, while smiling into the sun. On any given day, you’ll find her laughing with family and friends, binge-watching shows, reading while sneaking bites of chocolate, or warming her bones by a campfire.