Review: The Fire Sermon

I missed Throwback Thursday last week because I was too busy being ill and feeling sorry for myself. Seriously, I am the worst sick person ever, I’m pathetic. I did, however, finish my book in time for the weekend. & a very good book it was too. It’s one that I mentioned earlier this month in my exciting February releases post and I’m super duper pleased to be able to say it lived up to my expectations.

I’ve seen The Fire Sermon described as The Road meets The Hunger Games, which, it kind of bugs me actually how all the YA dystopian books around these days seem to be being dubbed as the next Hunger Games. I get why, because look at how successful THG has been, and it’s a surefire way to attract a shitload of readers - it works; it attracted me - but at the same time it kind of does books like The Fire Sermon a disservice, because this book, fine, it’s a dystopia and fine, it’s got a strong female protagonist and fine its set in a world where the ‘government’ hold all the cards, but it’s strong enough to be judged on it’s own merits; it doesn’t need to be the next anything, because it’s really good as it is. Let THG be THG and let The Fire Sermon mark out its own little patch and own it. I promise you it can.

Basically, we’re 400 years in the future. The world has survived a nuclear apocalypse referred to as ‘The Blast.’ Since the blast, all births have been twin births, always a boy and a girl and always with one ‘perfect’ human (the alpha) and one considered less than (the omega), most commonly with extra or missing features – limbs, eyes, digits -  who is branded as ‘useless’, cast away and forced to live on Omega settlements as a second-class citizen. Which, well it’s all a bit shit really, ableism at its extremes. The Omega’s are kept isolated but they’re not killed because in an excellent plot twist, if the one twin dies, the other dies too. I love that.

The story is that of Cass and her twin, Zach. On the surface Cass and Zach are both perfect. Turns out though, that Cass isn’t; she’s a seer. It takes 13 years for anyone to figure this out – well done Cass – but her asshat twin eventually drops her in it, Cass is sent away and, after escaping from the cell said asshat twin has kept her in for years (to protect himself. If one twin dies then the other dies too, remember), she quite accidentally becomes involved in a revolution that pits Alphas and Omegas against each other. That's a really interesting premise in and of its self because how can you win a war when each casualty of the enemy results in a casualty for your own side? You never just kill one person, you’re always killing two and that brings about a really interesting moral dilemma that I hope we see more of in the rest of the series.  Whilst all this is going on Cass is being stalked by The Confessor, (another Seer gone rogue and now working for the Alpha Council,) and slowly developing feelings for Kip, another Omega who she rescues as she makes her escape and who has no memories of his past. There is a lot going on here, it’s a roller coaster ride. Fun fact about me: I love a good roller coaster.

This book is very well-written. The thing about writing a dystopia is that you need to be able to create a world that’s out of this world and yet still be able to make it believable – imaginable – it’s something Margaret Atwood excels at (and if you haven’t read her Madaddam series, or Handmaid’s then you need to rethink your choices) and it’s something Haig pulls off pretty well; her descriptive abilities are excellent and almost poetic and the world she’s created whilst far-fetched isn’t so much so that you feel detached from it, or its characters.

It’s original – I’ve not come across anything quite like it – and the whole premise of twin births, of alphas and omegas, of life and of death is really really interesting. The characters are complex and well-rounded and make some less than great choices - Cass for example is blinded by this misguided love for her brother  to the point that you kind of want to bang her head against a wall because the guy is an absolute asshat but you know what, that’s really great because that love that Cass has for Zach who really doesn’t deserve it, and the way that colours her choices, it’s what makes you relate to her, it’s what makes her human: she’s an excellent character because  of her flaws and not in spite of them, because she has this undeserved loyalty to her brother, because she’s scared, because she’s lacking in a confidence in her own ability, because some of the time she has no clue what she’s doing. The thing about Cass is she’s honest: she wants to fight, she wants to do the right thing, but she’s just not sure she’s brave enough, and how true is that? So many books paint being a hero as an easy task and so Cass’s fear, and lack of self-belief were incredibly refreshing as is the portrayal of the Omegas. Lemme give you an example here: Kit and Piper, the two guys Cass teams up  with both only have one arm, yet this is never shown as being a disability. It’s just a fact of life and I think that – that they are never painted as ‘less than’ - is really important, even more so given the messed up view of this particular society that the Alpha twin is always somehow ‘stronger.’

The story progresses slowly, but it doesn’t drag; every moment feels relevant and the twists and turns were enough to have me turning pages even though my poor sick self really want to do some sleeping. The whole world is really fascinating, even the parts that fill you with rage. It’s an interesting study of body image and relationships tied in to a dysfunctional (and that might be the biggest understatement you’ll read here for a while) society rife with segregation, discrimination and fear, oh, and a whole mass of ethical dilemmas. There’s also significant twist that might just blow your mind a little bit. 
 I really really liked it. In fact, my main problem is that I reckon there’s going to be quite a wait for the next installment. 

Patience has never been one of my virtues.

The Fire Sermon will be published on February 26th by HarperFiction.