When the powerful mecha known as Sentients turn against their human creators, the result is a horrific battle that consumes city after city. Many lie dead, but a boy named Burn survives: a Sentient called Shoftiel has deemed the body of the dying Burn to be acceptable “emergency materials” with which to patch and support its own badly damaged system. What emerges from the wreckage is half-human and half-machine – and, unless Burn’s mind is strong enough to overcome Shoftiel’s programming, an agent of the destruction of the human race.
The premise of the humans-versus-machines conflict is nothing new: the imperfection, chaos, and cruelty of humans make them a plague on the planet, and only by eliminating them can the robots create a world of peace and order. The distinctly angelic-sounding names of the some Sentients – Shoftiel, Puriel – increase the sense of inhuman forces bent on “saving” the world through a destructive purge.
If other parts of the plot are a little erratic, this may well be intentional. The story does, after all, follow a boy who has had the right side of his head and torso replaced by metal (including one arm, which is now a lethal weapon). Burn spends a substantial portion of the book locked inside his own head, reliving old memories and struggling to wrest control from Shoftiel. It’s sometimes unclear to what extent the things he sees there correlate with what is actually going on around him. Burn, for example, is convinced – with some reason – that Shoftiel has killed his parents, but the words of a human survivor indicate that they and Burn’s friends all survived.
Even given this, Burn’s emotional reactions sometimes defy understanding. After failing to stop Shoftiel from using their shared body to murder the man who created the Sentients – a well-meaning scientist who pleads to be spared for the sake of his daughter – Burn mutters a sarcastic, “Great . . . Now I’m part can-opener.”
That said, the story does offer some strong emotional content, especially after Burn is taken in by a motorcycle gang living in one of the destroyed cities. He has reached an uneasy truce with Shoftiel – they aren’t killing humans, but Shoftiel will not allow empathetic or emotional displays that it says “serve no purpose.” Thus, the gang sees Burn as cold and inhuman even as, inside, he begs Shoftiel to let him reach out to fellow traumatized survivors in their moments of need. In the end, it takes – what else? – more violence to break the stalemate between boy and mecha: a showdown between the motorcycle gang and Shoftiel’s Sentient “brother” triggers Burn and Shoftiel’s final battle for control.
As should be clear already, this is a violent book. The publisher recommends it for ages thirteen and up.
I do have some issues with the text. The speech bubbles are often arranged so that, for the dialog to make sense, they must be read in what to me is not an intuitive order. The disembodied narration can be overdone and melodramatic.
The art shows a strong manga influence – indeed, it feels a bit odd to be reading this left-to-right. Events that take place inside Burn’s mind are easy to recognize, as the background is reduced to panels of flat black. The style is consistent and the fight sequences easy to follow, which is saying something, because I often have trouble visually understanding battle sequences in manga. (Although there is that one panel of that one battle scene in which Shoftiel shows up grafted onto Burn’s left side instead of his right – sneaky robot.)
With art and storyline reminiscent of a shonen manga, but in one stand-alone volume, Camilla d’Errico’s Burn is a nice variation on the long-series format. It should appeal especially to fans of dystopian settings and mech battles – just so long as they aren’t too faint at heart.