Title: The Fire Sermon
Author: Francesca Haig
Publisher: Gallery Books
Genre: Science Fiction (Dystopian)
Release Date: March 10th, 2015
REVIEW: The Fire Sermon
Hundreds of years after a nuclear explosion wiped out the world as we know it, humanity has survived by returning to a primitive society and rejecting all the taboo technology of The Before. Each birth brings a set of twins: an Alpha, perfectly normal in every way, and a deformed Omega. While the Alphas get their pick of the best resources, the Omegas are banished as children to the outskirts of society. Despite subjecting the Omegas to harsh conditions, the Alphas cannot escape their bond to their twin. When one twin falls ill, the other soon follows. When one dies, regardless of the distance apart, the other immediately drops dead.
“Before the blast, they say there’d been sermons about fire, about the end of the world. The fire gave the final sermon; after that there were no more.”
Our heroine, Cass, is a special type of Omega, a Seer. Seers are devoid of visible deformities, instead they are plagued by visions of the past, present, and future. Cass’s Alpha twin, Zach, is one of the elite: a council member driving a new wave of anti-Omega policies. Cass is captured by her brother for “safe keeping,” where she is interrogated about her visions: specifically those about a mysterious island housing an Omega rebellion.
There were other rumors, too, though these were rare and were shared more furtively: murmurings about Omega resistance, and whispers about the island. But watching my neighbors’ resignation as we rebuilt the barn, these ideas seemed far-fetched. The Council had ruled for hundreds of years; the idea that there could be any place free of their control was nothing but wishful thinking.
As the novel goes on, Cass must decide between loyalty to the boy she remembers from her childhood, or fighting against the power-hungry man he has become, and, in doing so, having the courage to stand for her ideals against a world run by fear.
The Fire Sermon is the first in a trilogy of dystopian novels to be released by Francesca Haig. While it follows the typical Dystopian approach of dividing the world into the “haves” and “have-nots,” the former living in luxury while the latter are overtaxed and abused. The obligatory “have-not” rebellion sect is included, complete with it’s own conflicting leaders. It’s approach to this idea, however, is unique in several regards. First: the mysteriously linked twins. For each person killed, their twin, somewhere, falls down dead. This means that there is no way for one side to wipe out the other without bringing about their own demise. Second: usually novels of this type divide people by their nationality or their socioeconomic class. Instead, the Alphas and the Omegas are divided by disability. The Omegas are shown to have a variety of birth defects from one eye, to three arms, or no legs. Each, however, is shown to be capable of sustaining themselves either on their own or through teamwork. For example, there is an armless, legless woman who is shown in her doorway rolling her own cigarettes with her mouth. While the readers can pity the Omegas for their plights at the hand of the Alpha Council, they cannot be pitied by the disabilities alone. One armed Piper leads his group of rebels, consisting of legless archers, and even the blind girl at the orphanage helps the younger children with meals and dressing. Their disabilities, while such a prevalent part of their society, are pushed into the background of the story because, thankfully, despite it defining them as Omegas, it does not define them as people.
The protagonist, Cass is one of the few people in her world who recognizes that people can divide themselves between Alphas and Omegas, but there is only one world with both groups relying on one another for life. Her relationship with her twin, Zach highlights the fear raging within their world: fear of each other, of The Before, of the unknown, and of oneself. Their relationship is by far the most interesting in the whole book, as even when they are apart we can feel their effects on one another. There is no perfect protagonist or antagonist in this book. Zach is sympathetic as the outcast child, resentful of the social exile forced on him by his sister’s presence. As an adult, he conducts experiments on the unsuspecting Omegas in hopes of severing the deadly bond between twins. As horrific as his actions are, he genuinely appears to view himself as working towards the “greater good,” becoming exasperated with Cass’s naiveté. Cass, while presenting herself as the peaceable heroine, seeking harmony instead of war, is infuriating at points. She clings to idealism at every turn whether it is the ideal childhood she hopes to sneak her way into, the ideal that she can reason with her twin, or the ideal that war can somehow be averted. While Zach seeks to sever the bond between them, Cass cannot envision a world without the bond, choosing instead to focus on trying to bring both groups together. In the end, however, her motivations, like Zach’s are those brought on by fear. Only by facing her fear, and Zach, can she truly hope to accomplish her goals.
While the world of The Fire Sermon is deep and elaborate, and the character motivations as varied as the Omega’s deformities, the author has a tendency towards telling and not showing. This either is or is not a problem, entirely depending on how you choose to view it. Seers, after a while, have a tendency to go mad, unable to distinguish between their reality and their visions. While imprisoned at the start of the book, Cass beings to feel her grasp on reality slipping, and she must resort to pinching herself or pulling out her hair in order to separate her real self from that in her visions. As the story progresses, there are occasional jumps in time, and the tendency for Cass to impulsively do something with little or no thought behind them. It could, however, be an artistic choice by the author to paint Cass as an unreliable narrator and highlight just what a jumble her mind is becoming as she starts to trust her Seer instinct more and her mind less. Despite this, the book remains quite wonderful, and will not cease to surprise readers with its many twists and turns.
For those who are used to relying on Amazon’s book previews, the book starts off a little jumpy, going between flashes of the present and Cass’s childhood. It is a poor taste of the book, and you should not judge it based upon that small snippet. If you are interested in this book based off this review, or just the description on the book’s jacket, it is worth picking up. While The Fire Sermon is considered an adult book, not YA, there is really nothing in the book that would prevent it from appealing to those in the Young Adult bracket. Fans of Suzanne Collin’s The Hunger Games trilogy, will appreciate the similar writing style and unique dystopian world of The Fire Sermon. It is the first book in a new trilogy by Francesca Haig, and the first book has already been optioned by Dreamworks Studios for a movie. Who knows? It could be the next dystopian blockbuster to hit theatres.
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