Reviewing The Fire Sermon, a dystopian thriller
It seems like in the past few years, simply put, “It’s the new Hunger Games!” in a book description, and it will sell. While there is no denying that dystopian fiction is all kinds of hot right now, I find that slapping the Hunger Games comparison on all of them really simplifies the genre. I like to read dystopian literature for the grit and the ingenuity of the main characters, and to imagine what I would do if I was placed in their worlds (and sincerely hope that my answer would not be run away/get in lock-step with the ruling class). The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig is a perfect example of mold-breaking dystopia, with one of the most relatable, even as she is so very different, characters that I have read in this type of stories in years.
In The Fire Sermon, we are introduced to a post-nuclear war world, where the radiation has caused mutations in the human race. Every child born is a twin; one is physically perfect (the Alpha), and one has some level of physical deformity (the Omega). Alphas are the heads of society, getting all of the prime government positions and lifestyles, while their Omega twins are sent to live as second or third class citizens after the twins are separated at a young age. However, there is a twist, as the twins are still connected enough that when one twin dies, the other does as well (and the same goes for extreme pain, both twins can feel torture). While this mutation has ensured semi-decent treatment of Omegas in the past, the new ruling class of Alphas is striving to make changes to the system and treat their Omega twins as little more than cattle.
Our heroine is Cass, a woman whose mutation is not physical. She is a Seer, who gets snippets of the future and of hidden places. Cass was able to hide her gift for the first 13 years of her life, meaning that she was able to stay with her parents and her twin, Zach for much longer than normal. The lack of separation, while heaven for Cass, is hell for her twin, who feels that his rightful place in normal society is being hindered by his twin’s inability to “move on” with her life and to let him ascend to his rightful place in the hierarchy. After Zach successfully outs his sister as Omega, he begins the power plays he has always dreamed of, making Cass an unwitting pawn in his games. Cass is subjected to years of isolation and interrogation, before breaking free of her captors, taking along with her a one-armed, amnesiac man she breaks out of the Alpha’s new (and super-secret) isolation tubes. Together, they journey to try to find a safe haven for themselves, and maybe to save the world.
Haig began her writing career as a poet, and that is a gift for readers, as she provides the most beautiful and heartbreaking descriptions of the world she has created. Every page is a journey, and I found myself reflecting on many different things while reading. Rarely does my brain go to South African apartheid and The Matrix in one sitting. The connection between twins is what makes this book unique and thought provoking, and it is Cass’s heart that makes this story worth reading. Haig has said this will be a trilogy, and I cannot wait for the next two installments of this bleak, yet hopeful read.
Meghan Volchko is a Collection Development Analyst at OverDrive, and she comes from a family full of twins.