This is Kelly’s best novel so far.
The characters in The Burning Air show a return to the type of damaged yet vulnerable characters that we met in The Poison Tree, occupying a grey area of moral ambiguity, neither entirely good nor entirely bad. Many of the characters do bad things for what they believe are good reasons, even if we can see that their reasoning has been damaged by the events that have shaped them. I have read some reviews that claim that the characters are one dimensional and do not develop. I find it hard to understand how anybody could come to this conclusion. So much of the book is about character and the way its development can be nurtured or stilted by those around us.
The story essentially revolves around two families, the MacBrides and the Kellaways. The MacBrides are wealthy and privileged whereas the Kellaways, although perhaps intellectually equal and from a similar background, are a single mother, her son and a distant relative who live on the edge of poverty. Throughout the story there are parallels between the two families that raise questions about the nature of entitlement and how privilege effects society’s perception of it.
It has been a long time since I have read a novel that really made me think but this did, and it is quite a good plot too!