Rory Power’s sophomore novel, Burn Our Bodies Down, came out on July 7th, 2020. According to Musing, Power pitched the book as “Field of Dreams, but nightmares.” Its fiery aesthetic is perfect for summer. The novel follows Margot, a girl who has always been separated from her extended family, and her quest to find them despite her mother’s protests. Following a trail of clues to the small town of Phalene, she learns that her family history is much darker than she thought. Similar to Power’s Wilder Girls, the book is a combination of mystery and horror, both physical and psychological. Where it differs, however, is in its discussion of family, and how those relationships can be difficult to navigate.
For me, the strongest aspect of the novel was its sense of place. The fictional town of Phalene, from the old houses to the endless cornfields, was almost a character of its own. It gave the book an eerie atmosphere that clung to me throughout the entirety of the story. Building off of the strong setting was the concept of the plot. As Power reveals the mystery of Margot’s family, I realized that it is based on a real scientific phenomenon. While heavily fictionalized and exaggerated, it is clear that Power did her research.
The biggest shortcoming of the book, unfortunately, was the characters themselves. While the quick, terse prose gave me some sense of who Margot is as a person, not much else described her well. She does not seem to have a personality outside of her relationships with her mother and grandmother. While these connections are certainly important aspects of her life, there could have been more to her character. The few other significant individuals seem one dimensional, and in some cases, they appear entirely unnecessary to the story.
On top of the unremarkable characters, the narrative structure was entirely skewed; the first two-thirds of the book dragged, while the last part was full of action and plot twists. Until that turning point, it felt as though Margot was a passenger in her own story. If Power were to lengthen the book, she could spend more time fleshing out her narrative arc while increasing character depth and further unpacking her themes. Although I consider this novel to be a step down from her first, I am a fan of Power’s work in general. While Burn Our Bodies Down was not my favorite, I am excited for her debut adult fantasy, In a Garden Burning Gold, which comes out in 2022.