Review of The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig (There’s still life in YA Dystopian fiction)
I’m a big fan of dystopian, but the YA market has been flooded with so much of it that it’s now almost impossible to find a solid, unique dystopian novel. There’s always too much romance, or too little world-building, or the plots are always derivative of other superior series/novels.
The Fire Sermon by poet Francesca Haig isn’t perfect. There are some things borrowed from other books—but creating a completely unique dystopian novel would be nigh on impossible these days. But Haig gets very close with The Fire Sermon.
After a world-wide (or so the characters believe in this first book) event called the Blast swept across the planet and destroyed infrastructure and poisoned the earth, the remaining population have reverted to living in a more simple, medieval word. But the Blast also affected humans—it made every birth a twin birth, in which one of the twins is born sickly or with some form of deformity, while the other is born strong and healthy. The weaker are the Omegas, the stronger the Alphas. Separated when it becomes apparent which is which, the twins go on to lead separate lives—in physical sense. Because they can never really be separated. They are bonded by link that means if one is seriously injured, so is the others, and if one dies, so does the other. Cass and Zach are the two twins this first book in what will be a series focuses on. Specifically Cass who flees capture when her brother imprisons her to keep himself safe, and goes in search of a ‘mythical’ place known as the Island—a refuge for Omegas.
Haig keeps the pace moving all the way to the climax, which offers a great twist—which I had suspicions about, but was never certain. Her writing is detailed, but somehow the vivid descriptions never bog down the pace of the story or detract from the action. And there is plenty of action—some great chase sequences that Haig builds some gripping tension in. A lot of the book is about journeying across the desolate landscape, but I was never bored and the pages always kept turning quickly. Cass and Zach are great characters, as are the other characters who are introduced throughout the story. There is romance, but luckily it isn’t the focus of the story and doesn’t get so heavy it takes away from the main plot.
The world-building is well done, Haig describing the half-post-apocalyptic, half-medieval world in enough detail that it feels real and believable. The ruined landscapes aren’t the most original setting for a dystopian, but Haig offers enough pace, plot, quality character development and vivid writing that any problems are quickly forgotten.
As with most first books in a series, this one ends on something of a cliff-hanger. The plots started in this book are mostly resolved and this does have a satisfying ending. But once you’ve read this book, you’ll be eager for the sequel/s.
There are some books I wish I’d written myself, and this is the second review in a week where I’ve wished I’d written a book by another author. Francesca Haig is a brilliant writer, and it shows on every page of The Fire Sermon. Even if you’re tired of dystopian, give this book a shot—it won’t disappoint. A movie is already in the works, with a screenplay being written by Haig and the team behind Guardians of the Galaxy, so this book/series will be talked about for some years to come.
I received this arc from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.