Bookshots: 'The Fire Sermon' by Francesca Haig
Bookshots: Pumping new life into the corpse of the book review
The Fire Sermon
Who wrote it?
Francesca Haig, a first-time novelist and seasoned poet. She works as an English professor at the University of Chester, currently serving as their Visiting Writing Fellow.
Plot in a Box:
Humans survived the nuclear blast that decimated Earth 400 years ago, but developed a strange mutation: all babies are born twins. One twin is perfect (Alpha), one mutant (Omega), and they are physically linked. Omegas are sent to apartheid-style settlements while the Alphas horde the best land and resources for themselves. Cass, an Omega, dreams of a future in which all people can peacefully coexist, but her ruthless separatist twin brother has other plans.
Invent a new title for this book:
You Are My Better Half
Meet the book's lead:
Cass is an Omega with the rare mutation of psychic foresight. She is cast out of her home, hunted, and even imprisoned, yet retains an optimism and inner drive that inspires those around her.
Said lead would be portrayed in a movie by:
Emma Stone gets my vote. Dreamworks has already optioned the entire trilogy, so it could happen! (And I'll just say this now: Please Dreamworks, even if book three is long, don't pull a quadrilogy. It ruins, well, everything.)
Setting: Would you want to live there?
No, thank you. Even though the bucolic Alpha settlements sound lovely, they live in the shadow of the authoritarian Council government. Also, the Alpha children bring to mind images of Hitler Youth. Alternatively, the Omega settlements are full of kind people, but most of them are in some stage of starvation. Omegas dream of a place where they can thrive free from Alpha oversight, but does such a place exist?
What was your favorite sentence?
Before the blast, they say there'd been sermons about fire, about the end of the world. The fire itself gave the last sermon; after that there were no more.
The Fire Sermon is an undeniable page-turner. I approached it as a reluctant reader, mostly because a young adult post-apocalyptic novel with a female protagonist and the requisite love interest(s) sounded a little too much like The Hunger Games or the Divergent series to me. Fortunately, the similarities ended there, and I found the ideas the author explores to be pretty compelling. She really dives into the idea of "other," which is an important topic for young readers. It starts with how humans in this world respond when faced with limited resources and obvious segregators. In addition to mutations (some minor, some profound), Omegas can't reproduce. It's not hard to believe that these people would be targeted as second class citizens by the Alphas. Haig takes that many steps further, looking at the slippery slope of subjugation as it moves toward totalitarianism, and the inevitable backlash that produces.
Seasoned readers will find many familiar tropes in use. Mind-reading, amnesia, suspended animation, even a powerful Omega seer who functions like the eye of Sauron. I found twin deaths to be oddly reminiscent of the Mystic / Skeksis link in The Dark Crystal, but that doesn't make them any less interesting. Cass may be The One, or at least One of the Few. She seems to be following the classic Hero's Journey, and the novel sets up nicely for the inevitable second book of conflict.
At the heart of Haig's worldbuilding is a precious love story between Cass and a fellow Omega on the run named Kip. The writing surrounding these two beautifully demonstrates Haig's craft. If you thought Peeta Mellark had a big fan club, just you wait. There will be copious amounts of kissy fan art and montage videos. You can count on it.
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