Book Review: Burrowed (2023)

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This is a book review of the dystopian novel Burrowed by Mary Baader Kaley, releasing Jan 10, 2023, from Angry Robot. 

I received this book early from the publisher in exchange for a fair review!
An intelligent, science-based novel featuring a woman in STEM, Burrowed is also a fast-paced and fun book that you just want to burrow under the covers with.
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.


While a fun and engaging novel, Burrowed‘s world-build was not entirely fleshed out enough for me. While I love the concept – where society has broken into two underground and above-ground populations – I had many questions about the logistics and infrastructure. As such, it didn’t quite reach the complexity I prefer in science fiction (and in dystopias) so I was distracted a bit by questions I had. It does retain a bit of a “bunker” feel that I enjoyed.  
Nothing about the story required a complex world-build to move forward, though. The plot itself is very fun and it was great to follow along with Zuzan as she discovered what life was like in different parts of her underground world and as she learns more about herself. The novel has a great momentum that drives it forward, as well as quick turns.

One of the best things about the novel is that it’s also a medical thriller. A massive chunk of the latter half of the book deals with the characters attempting to find a cure for a disease, and that aspect was really interesting. The fact that this was the crux of the novel, rather than the protagonist fighting someone or something, was a nice change for the genre. There is a lot of medical and science lingo in the dialogue, but it’s still easy to read and it is not dry.

The characters were fine. Zuzan felt more like a YA heroine than an adult one at times – she’s brilliant, discovers her beauty as the story progresses, has multiple young men fawning over her, it turns out her faults are actually strengths, has a special power/gift (in this case, eidetic memory), and is tough. As such, she fell a little flat for me, as she’s inexplicably competent at everything she does. Her struggles are mainly external against the forces that see her low life expectancy and disability as a problem. This a relatable and important issue, but it leaves her very surface level.

One thing I didn’t like about the novel at all was the love story. On top of not understanding what they saw in one another, as they never talk about anything other than work, there’s a major power-dynamic issue, as the love interest is her boss (given her young age, I found this a bit off-putting).  Likewise, there was no real tension between them.

To get back to stuff I really liked though, the book is very easy to read and follow. Most of the scenes (not romance scenes) have wonderful tension and I was never sure where the story was going next. The story definitely isn’t formulaic and it was wholly engaging. I loved the gender parity and the whole slew of women in STEM in the book. The focus on female friendships was excellent, as well as the messages around accommodation for disability and on childrearing that focuses on openness and learning rather than rules and controlling behaviour.

This book has so many great things going for it that I think anyone who likes dystopian novels (especially dystopian YA) will enjoy it. It’s fun! 

Burrowed comes out Jan 10, 2023 and you can pre-order it here!

    T. S. Beier is obsessed with science fiction, the ruins of industry, and Fallout. She is the author of What Branches Grow, a post-apocalyptic novel (which was a Top 5 Finalist in the 2020 Kindle Book Awards and a semi-finalist in the 2021 Self-Published Science Fiction Competition) and the Burnt Ship Trilogy (space opera). She is a book reviewer, editor, and freelance writer. She currently lives in Ontario, Canada with her husband, two feral children, and a Shepherd-Mastiff.

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