[REVIEW] The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

Francesca Haig
The Fire Sermon (The Fire Sermon, Book 1)
HarperCollins Voyager (AU: 23rd February 2015; UK: 26th February 2015); Simon & Schuster Gallery (US & CA: 10th March 2015)
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TRIGGER WARNING: Ableism, and lots of it. The society based on ableism, so it’s pretty inescapable. Thankfully, the story is told from the point of view of someone who believes that ableism is wrong – otherwise the book would’ve been unreadable.

Is The Fire Sermon post-apocalyptic or fantasy? Maybe it’s supposed to be both. The post-apoc elements work best, but the fantasy elements had me questioning the world-building.

There was a nuclear blast, which blighted the land and decimated the population. The blast caused mutations in all future births: always two babies born at a time, one boy and one girl. (No mention of any intersex.) Why always two babies? Or why not two boys, or two girls – why always one of each? (Having completed the novel, my questions remain unanswered, but maybe we learn more in future books.)

In each birth pair, one is Alpha and the other Omega. (It’s random which child is which, so thankfully no sexism.) The Omega may have missing limbs or extra digits, whilst the Alpha is the “stronger” one. (I warned you about the ableism.) Due to the blighted land, crops don’t grow well, and modern technology is seemingly non-existent for most, so I’m unsure of the jobs situation. Because of finances, and the government’s scare campaign, as soon as Omegas are weaned they’re cast out, usually sent to an Omega relative to raise.

But there’s a rare form of Omega, like Cass. She has the “correct” numbers of body parts, but instead she’s psychic. Cass seems to feel that being a seer is…well, a “disability”, but since Alphas and Omegas alike both want to use her for it… Maybe everyone EXCEPT seers think it’s an advantage? Cass has some seer angst here – she fits in with neither Alphas nor Omegas.

Cass’s Alpha twin, Zach, is a political mover and shaker. But he doesn’t fit in with his fellow Alphas, because Cass wasn’t sent away until they were thirteen, so Zach’s dealt with being suspected of “poison” just as much as Cass has, until their separation. Zach resents Cass for not turning herself in earlier.

But there’s one thing preventing Alphas from killing their Omegas (and if you thought it was a conscience, you’re wrong). Twins are somehow linked, so that when one of the pair falls seriously ill or dies, so does the other. Born together, die together. A political big-wig like Zach doesn’t need to be assassinated – his enemies could simply kill Cass instead.

Fantasy is not my forte, and I can only keep interested in slow travel for so long. Also, the New Hobart section doesn’t add much, and could have easily been shortened. While I admire Cass’s altruism, I never warmed to the other major characters (Zach and Kip).

Iffy world-building aside, The Fire Sermon grabbed me from its concept, and kept me with its post-apocalyptic intrigue. Francesca Haig’s well-crafted secondary characters and fleeting glimpses of technology left me wanting more – and there are two books to go in the trilogy, so onward and upward!

P.S. I ship Cass with Piper.

P.P.S. Dream Works have the film rights. There are various roles suitable for actors with missing or extra body parts, so hopefully CGI will not be required (or “required”). Likewise, my two favourite characters have “dark skin”, so hopefully their actors will be people of colour. (Please don’t let the characters be whitewashed!)

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