Book Review: Obscura Burning by Xan van Rooyen

Kyle can't remember what happened the night of the fire, but, ever since then, he's been stuck alternating between two realities---one in which his boyfriend, Danny, is alive but paraplegic and their friend, Shira, is dead, the other in which Shira is alive but Danny is dead and Kyle is horribly scarred from the burns. But shifting between realities is killing Kyle, both literally and figuratively, and he's determined to figure out how to stop it, even if it means remembering the night of the fire that he's blocked from his mind and choosing between Danny and Shira.

Book Cover - Obscura Burning by Xan Van Rooyen
Title: Obscura Burning
Pages: 253
My Rating: 5 Stars
More Info: Goodreads // Amazon // Publisher


*I received an ecopy of this book from the publisher. This has not influenced my review.*

This book. Was. FANTASTIC. I didn’t mean to read it all in one night, but that’s what ended up happening, exhaustion be damned. It was one those books that, from the very first page, I loved and just knew was going to blow me away. It had such an interesting premise, the mood was bleak and dark, the writing was not fanciful yet somehow still beautiful, the characters were imperfect and suffering, there was even disability! And those were my thoughts after just ten percent, though I’m happy to say the book continued to affect me just as strongly all the way to the end.

But I do want to talk more in depth about all those things, so I’ll start with the premise. There was a fire one night, and that was when everything changed. Kyle doesn’t even know if it was his fault since he can’t remember what actually happened. But since then, Kyle has been stuck alternating between two realities. In one, his boyfriend Danny is still alive as a paraplegic, but their friend Shira is dead. In the other, Shira is alive, but Danny is dead and Kyle is badly burned and scarred all over much of his face and body. There are other differences too, but those are the most important ones. So in each reality, someone is being grieved, but Kyle can’t move on from either death because both Danny and Shira are still alive to him, just in different realities. That alone makes for an amazing story if you’re a masochistic reader like me since it’s rife with all sorts of emotion.

Then there was the mood of the book. Not only was it bleak and dark, it was also intense, haunting, atmospheric, mysterious, suspenseful, unsettling, twisted, heavy… Basically any sort of dark synonym you can think of, it applies. It’s one of the darkest books I’ve ever read, despite the fact that it’s YA. It also included a lot of serious topics, like *POSSIBLE SPOILER + TRIGGER WARNING* LGBT struggles, family struggles, disability, grief/loss, abuse, possible mental illness, self harm, and attempted suicide. *END SPOILER*

And that writing style that I mentioned? It worked so perfectly to convey the dark mood. It’s hard to explain since it wasn’t all flowery or metaphorical, but it was still beautiful, and I loved it.

Then you had Kyle himself. Considering all those trigger warnings I mentioned, you can probably guess that he was suffering and unhappy in every version of reality (what with his guilt, grief, confusion, fear, anger, etc.) and the shifting back and forth thing was killing him, both literally and figuratively. In some ways, he shouldn’t have been a sympathetic character—he could be very selfish and impulsive—but I found myself sympathizing with him regardless. I felt terrible for him and was rooting for him to succeed at fixing things. Maybe it was because of how realistic and developed he was. He was also obsessed with fire, like in a legit pyromania way (even though the word was never used), and that was an interesting thing to read about.

All the characters seemed like real people though—some good, some bad, some imperfect but trying, some not trying at all. It made for a lot of gray area and some thought-provoking aspects.

And last but not least on my list, there was the disability. In one reality, Kyle was scarred from his burns, and the author did what seemed like a good job of including the ways it affected him, the ways people reacted, the ways he felt about it, a lot of things that I wouldn’t have thought or known as someone who’s never experienced that. In the other reality, Danny was paraplegic and wheelchair-bound. There wasn’t too much exploration of that since Danny wasn’t a POV character, but we still got to see a small bit of the struggles from Kyle’s perspective.

One more thing, this book was definitely a mindfuck, but one with a plot that actually made sense. It could’ve gone into total confusing nonsense territory, but it didn’t. It was a little confusing trying to remember the details for each reality, but that was just because of my memory, not because of the writing. Everything was plenty clear and mostly consistent, and I never noticed any plot holes. My only issue would have to be that the ending was one of those open-to-interpretation ones (unless I just didn’t quite understand it). But the explanation given near the end was what made the most sense and fit with everything else in the story, so I’m going with that. *SPOILER* But wow, what a twist! Some may not like it, and I’ll admit it wasn’t the ending I wanted, but it’s one I could accept. Sorry if you were expecting more of a spoiler than that, but I really don’t want to ruin it. *END SPOILER*

So overall, this book was dark and intense and amazing with wonderful writing and realistic characters, and I just loved it!

*My review is based on a version of the book that released in 2016. It has since been re-released, and I don’t know if there have been any changes.*


Book Tags:

Basic Info

Book Author:
Genre: , ,
My Rating:

More Info (Possible Spoilers)


Talk to me!

Have you read Obscura Burning by Suzanne van Rooyen?
Do you like dark, intense, mysterious books?


Your Thoughts


26 thoughts on “Book Review: Obscura Burning by Xan van Rooyen

I'd love if you'd share your thoughts, too!


Reading your comments makes me a very happy blogger!

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. suzanna

    Oh no! The spoiler wasn’t spoiling enough. What a interesting premise. I’m not a lover of ‘dark’ books but I might have to get hold of a copy to see what could possibly explain all this. And the cover is gorgeous.
    Great review.

    1. Kristen Burns

      Lol sorry, I felt like what I said was spoiler enough that anyone reading the book might guess the ending, but I didn’t want to completely ruin it. I am a lover of dark books, so this was like my dream come true! It is a pretty cover, although to be honest I’m not entirely sure what I’m looking at. Thanks!

      1. suzanna

        No, I’m not sure what I’m looking at either but I just like the contrast of that fire against the green. Very striking 🙂

  2. Lola

    It does sound like the overall plot line with the two realities stayed the same form the version that I read. That bleak and dark mood was the thing I didn’t like and I eventually DNF’d it. Although I do think the concept was original, the way it was written just didn’t work for. I did enjoy another book by this author, so I think it had more to do with the topics and bleak mood in this one.

    I am pretty sure even in it’s current state it wouldn’t be a book for me. But what I didn’t like about this one, seem to be the things that worked for you. I am glad to hear you enjoyed this one. For me it did go into confusing territory when I read this one, although it does seem it got a rewrite, so maybe part of that got fixed. And here I was clicking on the last spoiler to see what the twist and ending was, lol. Great review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I have no idea how much was changed, but I can definitely see why it wasn’t your type of book since it was so dark. See I didn’t think it was confusing since it was always clear what reality he was in and what was happening. And then eventually there was an explanation about why he was moving between them. I’ll send you a DM on Twitter about the twist since I know you’re never gonna read it and won’t be spoiled 😉

  3. Greg

    It does have a unique premise. And I like the shifting realities bit. I can imagine it’s emotional in the sense that every reality has someone different dead! It’s got a lot going on too sounds like- mental illness, self harm… the fire thing. He must have a tremendous amount of guilt- I mean either reality someone he’s involved with is dead – so who does he choose?

    I’m not crazy about those open to interpretation endings, but sometimes it works… and I get when an author wants to let the reader sorta decide, if that’s what happened here. Anyway it does sound dark and intense and I love a read like that. Glad it was good!

    1. Kristen Burns

      I feel like you always “get” my reviews and what I’m trying to say so well. I loved that emotional layer of someone being dead in each reality but not being able to grieve and all that. And it did have a lot going on, but it worked really well for me. And all that guilt wasn’t just about choosing but also because he couldn’t remember the fire and was afraid that he might’ve been the one to start it and accidentally kill them because of his obsession with fire.

      Yeah, I prefer a definite ending, but it seems like all these kinds of dark, intense books that I love seem to have them. I guess I’m just learning to accept them because it’s worth it for the chance to enjoy the rest of the book lol. Thanks!

  4. Luna & Saturn

    This definitely seems like an interesting book. We agree, YA usually isn’t very bleak and gloomy, so it’s rare to see a book this dark. That ending seems to be mind-blowing (don’t worry, it wasn’t even spoiler-ish at all!), and we sort of like open-interpretation endings though, like in Eleanor and Park. The premise is so intriguing – alternate realities are so cool, but it does seem confusing though. Great review! <3 We've also nominated you for the Mystery Blogger Award if you're interested. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Yeah, I tend to favor adult books because YA never have the same darkness, but this book really did. I know my spoiler wasn’t very spoilerish lol, but it could make people guess the ending if they do read the book, so better to be safe than sorry 🙂 I know some people do like open-for-interpretation endings, but I still like to know for sure. Thanks! I’ll go check out the award 🙂

  5. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    Well, this sounds like a really awesome and interesting. I mean, I love books where there are alternate realities and I honestly don’t know why. They’re just really interesting to read, you know? And this one sounds like it backs a punch because either way the MC is dealing with a whole heap of loss and other things. I think it’s really interesting how the MC can’t remember the fire and if he caused it considering his major obsession with fire. It would be crazy to read and then an open ending? I mean, I get why you read this book so fast. I would have too.

    1. Kristen Burns

      I don’t even know if I’ve read about alternate realities before, but I definitely thought it was awesome in this book! That’s such a perfect way of putting it, it packed quite a punch, and I really couldn’t put it down!

  6. Wattle

    I’m not a big fan of the dual reality thing (and actively avoid it, if I’m being honest) but this one sounds different and quite intriguing. Hmmm, it will definitely be one to consider when I want something a bit darker than what I’m reading at the moment 🙂 I already have a theory about the twist, I want to see if I’m right haha

    1. Kristen Burns

      I think this might have been the first dual reality book I’d ever read, but I liked the dual reality thing! It probably depends on how well it’s written though as to how good it is. This is an amazing book if you want something darker though 🙂 You’ll have to let me know if you got the twist right 😉

  7. Karen Blue

    WOW! This story sounds amazing. It has been a while since I was up all night reading something. I like the idea of different realities. I am adding this to my TBR anyways, even if I know it will be a while before I can get to it. I like a good mindfuck once in a while. Seriously, great review!

    1. Kristen Burns

      It is amazing! It had also been a while since I stayed up all night because I just couldn’t put the book down. I think it turns out I like mindfuck books more than I thought I did, as long as they’re not confusing. Thanks, hope you enjoy the book!

    1. Kristen Burns

      Ummm, I don’t know? I mean, I don’t usually have quite the same taste as the majority either though… It’s definitely dark and the kind of thing that not everyone will like.

  8. Bookworm Brandee

    “…an amazing story if you’re a masochistic reader…” <– That right there. Yep, that's why I'll read it – because I love a story that evokes so much emotion. And the next time my hubs asks why I like reading books that make me cry, that's the answer I'm giving. LOL But truly, I love the sound of this book. There's so much more on top of being evocative. Mostly though, I like that the characters are so well done and seem so real. Characters with flaws are the most relatable, in my opinion. I'm thrilled you had such a fabulous read early in the year, Kristen. It might be awhile before I can pick it up, but I will. 🙂

    1. Kristen Burns

      Haha yes, you’re a masochist like me! This was amazing, and the MC especially felt real and made me feel for him, flaws and all. Ah yes, your book buying ban. Well, I definitely recommend this one if you do decide to buy it once your ban it up!