Pure was a highlight of 2012 for me. Here is a dystopian vision utterly horrific. A vision of a near future so mangled and grotesque that you want to look away but you can’t. A world in which all souls who survived the Detonations are fused with whatever they were holding, clutching, embracing, fixing at the time of the catastrophic explosions. This means women are fused to babies, children to toys, men to the dust beneath their feet and all to glass, metal, plastic, even animals and trees. Even to each other. Except for the select view brought into the Dome for safety before the Detonations. These are the Pure and while the fused outside might once have thought that the Dome was inhabited by benevolent brothers and sisters, waiting for a safe time to open the doors to all, now the fused know that they are abandoned. They are the Wretches. Shining amongst them is Pressia, the girl with a doll for a hand but uncannily practical nonetheless and she returns as our heroine in Fuse.
Fuse is the second in a planned trilogy and so you must read Pure first. This review will inevitably contain a few spoilers for Pure and so only read on if it’s safe to do so.
As Fuse begins a Wretch is found, her fusions cured, her skin soft and unblemished. But the child Wilda is unable to say anything but this: ‘We want our son returned. This girl is proof that we can save you all. If you ignore our plea, we will kill our hostages one at a time’. Willux, the leader of the Dome, wants his son Partridge returned. The pretence is gone. There is nothing that the Dome will not do to the Wretches scrambling for a living outside the walls if they don’t do what is demanded of them. Partridge, Pressia’s brother and an escaped Pure, has his own plans for his father and that involves a return to the Dome. Pressia is on a mission too – she is on the trail of the Seven. The Seven included her mother among their number but now are mostly lost. They alone have the knowledge that Pressia and her followers need to uncover the truth behind the Detonations and the possibility of a cure from their devastating impact on flesh and bone.
Among the characters returning in Fuse are my particular favourites Capitan (or Cap) and Helmud. Brothers fused together they each carry a horrendous burden. Their story develops throughout the novel more so, I’d argue, that any other. Helmud’s complete dependence on his brother, even on his language, is tested repeatedly with Helmud stretching the bond, Cap repelling the closeness, but both learning as the pages go on how to attract the other and not just repel. It is extraordinarily poignant, even more so as both learn how to relate to others around them just as much. This is bad made good but in an extremely sophisticated manner. Cap and Helmud are reason enough to recommend Julianna Baggott’s novels.
There are other familiar figures here too – Lydia is travelling with the Mothers. These fearsome women are fused to the babies their men left them. Their maternal care has mutated into something truly terrible – an obsessive hunt for vengeance. We also meet again Bradwell, Pressia’s love, a young man with living, breathing, wind-flapping birds encaged in his back. It is good to see Pressia again, although it is arguable that such is the strength of the other characters that this time Pressia’s tale is less prominent.
Pure is full of images to remember. I still recall it vividly over a year on. While Fuse has less immediate impact because this rearranged and tortured world is now familiar, there are scenes here that are just as memorable. The dangers faced by our heroes, the fate of one of those closest to us, the dysfunction of the Dome, the transformation of a friend of Partridge into a killer, now mostly animal, the devastation of a pregnancy.
This trilogy deserves a wider readership than a YA tag would suggest. Its language, present tense, is expert, hitting home. Its worldbuilding is second to none. The character development is, in places, as dramatic as the distorted, malevolent environment. Any doubts as to how Pure could ever have a sequel worthy of it are laid to rest with Fuse. It is a substantial book but there are treats on every page. It builds on Pure perfectly; it bodes so well for the final book of the trilogy. Now we must tap our fingers and wait.