Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Book Review: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

I saw this cover in a book store a few months ago and simply stared at it for a few moments. Any book that doesn't have a title, author, or anything on the cover is either really flipping good or an attempt at being surreal and thoughtful without really accomplishing either. Either way, the publisher and author would have to be confident in both the cover art and the content to be able to put out a book like this.

And their gamble worked. It got my attention.

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is a post-apocalyptic novel where everything has basically reset. Whole nations and societies were destroyed from a nuclear blast and due to fallout exposure, the world has changed in dramatic ways. Most species have died out, leaving the most plain or common to adapt and survive. Pigeons are the only birds. Cows and horses the only real large fauna out there. And children are only born as twins, an Alpha and an Omega, boy and girl. An Alpha is strong and whole and is given all of the best opportunities in life. They are fertile and run the government and everything left in the world. Omegas are deformed and infertile. They may be missing legs or an eye or be mute and are left ostracized on the outskirts of society to be forgotten by their Alpha twin. But here's the catch. Twins are connected in a way other than birth and blood. If one twin experiences extreme pain, illness, or death, the other does as well. There's no choice in that. If one dies, the other does as well.

Cass and Zach are twins but neither one has an obvious deformity. Unlike many other twins that are separated young, they grow up together, waiting for the other to expose their Omega trait. Cass is keeping a secret though and has become very clever at hiding it. She is a Seer, a rare brand of Omega and once Zach discovers it, everything goes to hell.

Cass has to scramble to survive alone and then imprisoned. She is strong and will not be conquered by the twisted brother she grew up loving and now has reasons to fear. 

This book is definitely a rollercoaster ride. There is a lot going on and the characters are in constant movement. Time passes quickly in the first bit of the book, showing Cass and Zach growing up, and it allows for some excellent world building. The entire world is scared of machinery and electricity because it was seen as the downfall of the "Before" civilization. Everything from Before is considered taboo and people refuse to go near it. Life has been reduced to pre-industrial standards and civilizations are once again based on agriculture and trade instead of technology.

Cass was an interesting character to read. She is strong where she needed to be strong but also has her vulnerabilities. She loves her brother dearly and in many ways, cannot accept what he is doing to her. She struggles with reconciling her childhood sibling with the man that he has become and it holds her back throughout the book. It's easy to rely on impressions made as children for the rest of your life and never change them and I think that she does this too much. It's her major flaw. She cannot escape the memories of playing with her brother as a kid and those memories make her make stupid decisions.

Cass's companion, Kip, fills the role of helpless sidekick for me. He's missing his arm but plays the clever supporting character that doesn't do much on their own but helps the main character throughout the book. From the beginning, it was obvious that he was going to play the love interest but that part of the book was remarkably muted. There's very little passion which gives more time to the plot and action but it was a little disappointing to read. 

But there are some extreme noticeable flaws that are big drawbacks to this book.

One. If I had a twin and had to rely on them for survival, I would be a little bit nicer to them. I would not send them into the slums to scrape a living where they could get sick, get infections, fall off a cliff, or whatever. I would put them in a house with myself and take care of them. Because there are always those people that would resent being abandoned and take revenge on a sibling by waiting until they were successful and then finding a way to torture them, or even more extreme, kill them. It's a big plot hole. If I was ostracized by my family, you can bet that I would take it out on my perfect sibling. That's human nature and I'm surprised that wasn't considered in the book.

Two. The role of electricity isn't really fully explained. If they are trying to keep it under wraps, then having guards around swinging light bulbs seems rather short sighted. And where are the generators? How are they making the electricity?

Three. I'm convinced that if Kip hadn't been in the plot, it wouldn't have changed much at all. In fact, Cass might have been able to do more things in a more significant way by relying on herself. She leans on him a bit too much for my taste and it holds back her character growth. Throughout her life, she relied on others to support her and doesn't take full control over any of her actions. She is a passive person and it practically takes a cattle prod in order for her to make a decision on her own.

The world building is awesome but the large plot holes make it a less enjoyable read.

It's really a unique concept and I wish that it had been developed more. It's different than all other YA dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels out there and it was held back by characters that were a little bit too cliche and plot devices that didn't really work in the end. I wish that the romance had been more developed. I wish that more had been explained throughout the novel. I wish that Kip was made into a stronger person in general.

But I will read the next one when it comes out. I think it has potential and I'm looking forward to it.

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