Burn Mark, by Laura Powell (Bloomsbury, June 19, 2012, YA)-- fascinating witch crime noir, set in London with magically-gifted teenage protagonists (and no love triangle).
It's the modern era, but the Inquisition in England is still growing strong. Witches--those with the "Fae"--are feared and distrusted (with reason, in as much as unscrupulous witches are known to use their gifts for criminal purposes, and a terrorist uprising of witches killed hundreds in recent memory). All known witches are "bridled" with iron...and any witch who breaks the law is executed, by burning. This being a civilized era, however, the witch's clothes are treated with flammable chemicals first, and a numbing drug administered...
Burn Mark is the story of two teenagers, told from their alternating viewpoints--Lucas, the son of a high ranking Inquisitor, a boy used to privilege, and Glory, born into an illegal coven of witch criminals, working class, gum chewing, and wearing lots of make-up. She has always longed for magic so that she can take her hereditary place in the coven; Lucas, on the other hand, is horrified when he develops powerful fae gifts--not only is his own life derailed, but the scandal might destroy his family.
But before Lucas is publicly outed, and bound with iron, he's given a chance to work undercover on an investigation of criminal witchcraft in one of London's covens--a powerful group with whom Glory's own coven has an uneasy alliance. And Glory has been asked the witch to whom she answers to work with him.
Glory and Lucas have nothing in common, other than both being teen-aged witches, and their mutual dislike. But as their investigation proceeds, they find a much darker plot than anyone had suspected--one that could jeopardize what little progress had been made in establishing trust between the Fae and the normal. In the course of their gritty adventures through the darkness of London's illicit world of witch crime and into the heart of the Inquisition (with its own illicit darkness), Lucas and Glory are forced to trust each other, and themselves, in order to do what is right (and just as an aside, I appreciated the fact that they did not feel mysteriously drawn to each other despite their mutual dislike).
Burn Mark reminded me very much of Holly Black's Curseworkers series, only not quite as dark, more concerned with class issues, and with more deliberate pacing. Powell takes her time setting up her chessboard, describing her alternate world, and introducing her characters and their circumstances. It's not until the second half that "exciting" things (like death and torture) start to happen.
I myself was just fine with this--I like to spend time with characters, getting to know them, before the death and torture parts start (although, in fairness, there is witch is burned to death in one of the chapters, but it's a peripheral death). I thought the antagonistic relationship between Glory and Lucas, gradually changing as events progressed, was very nicely done. I also liked that, although Glory and Lucas are powerful young witches, and use their abilities during the course of the story, magic isn't a panacea that obviates the need for intelligence and solves all problems! They are kids, with adults telling them what to do, and taking down powerful evildoers isn't easy, which is just as it should be.
The care that Powell takes with her world building makes her world extremely credible, and therefore more powerful to read about. There are, of course, parallels to our own world, with class issue, terrorism, distrust of the threatening "other," but they aren't underlined with a heavy hand.
In short, I enjoyed it, and I think this would be a most excellent one to give to a thirteen or fourteen year old who isn't into the sort of paranormal in which love is of primary importance. Viz age of reader--there's no sex, I didn't notice any bad language (but I might have missed it), and although there's violence, The Hunger Games has more, so I wouldn't mind if my own almost 12 year old wanted to read it.
As a final aside, I want to clarify that I read an ARC of this UK import. I checked with the publisher to see if the British terminology, like "skip" for "dumpster," "PMT" for "PMS", and the use of the word "chav" to describe Glory was retained in the US edition (although there is no word for "chav" in the US...), and was happy to hear that it was!
Here's the Kirkus (starred) review
(disclaimer: review copy received from the publisher)