The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
Genre: Post-apocalyptic / Dystopia
Publisher: Harper Voyager, 2015
My Rating: 4/5
Synopsis (different to the Amazon synopsis, this is on the back of my copy):
What would you do if you had to leave everything you knew behind?
If what made you perfect also made you an outcast?
If your twin, once your only friend, was now your worst enemy?
Since the blast that reshaped the earth, only twins are born. The imperfect one of each pair is branded at birth and sent away. Twins share nothing but the moment of their death: when one dies, so does the other. But Cass and her twin Zach cannot be separated.
In this scorched and broken world, Cass’s bond with her brother may be the most dangerous thing of all.
The Fire Sermon had been sitting on my shelf for quite a while whilst I got on with reading for university. So, now that I’ve pretty much finished my final year, I was excited to begin this book that had been gathering dust. The premise is an extremely unique one: 400 years after some kind of man-made apocalypse (my best guess is nuclear, but it’s never revealed fully to us) a mutation in human DNA causes twins to be born. One is physically and mentally perfect (the Alpha), the other usually physically deformed (the Omega). However, a few, like Cass, are mentally different in that they are seers, essentially clairvoyants.
The novel for me started a little slowly. I loved the world-building at the beginning, and creating the power-play dynamic between the twins Cass and Zach, but I found it took a little while for me to be really hooked. Yet once it began to pick up the pace, I was gripped.
The details of the apocalypse and the reason for the psychically-connected twins is never fully explained, but I didn’t feel at a loss for that. The sequel is actually very close to being released, so I’m hoping Haig will expand a bit more on these topics. However, I do wonder if an answer for the psychic link for the twins, and the creation of the seers, might end up being too far-fetched, so I would honestly be happy if Haig left it ambiguous. This is down to the fact that her story-arc really does take us for a ride. She weaves an excellent plot with a twist that I was oblivious to until the very end. The idea of not being able to kill off someone without also killing their twin was a great one in terms of creating dilemmas. The world-building itself was fresh, with the setting being somewhat medieval in its use of wood houses, agriculture and weapons such as swords and bows. Thankfully, no one spoke like the world had really plunged back into the Dark Ages; that would have been too much a regression in a world that fears the ‘Before’.
As for the characters Cass meets along the way, I actually preferred some of them to Cass herself. Cass was by no means a bad heroine; I really did like her. It was just that the other characters seemed to get the better lines. I did like how Cass wasn’t one of those stereotypical ‘feisty’ heroines who are actually just a bit rude and obnoxious. She lost her temper when she needed to, but for the most part was quite calm and chose to be the bigger person when people were sarky. This included her main companion of the novel, Kip, who came out with some good one-liners against her. Cass saves him from the clutches of the Alphas and the two make a journey in search of a rumoured Omega resistance. I won’t spoil the plot line as to whether this resistance exists or not, but Kip was an extremely likeable character, full of wit but not just acting as the standard comic relief. The two of them also meet others along the way, but my favourite character was a man called Piper. Confident, intelligent (and also quite witty), I really enjoyed the conversations between him and Cass.
I was also pleased with how Haig gave her Omega characters obvious physical deformities, but draws attention to the fact that they shouldn’t be judged for this; they are not lesser people simply because they’re missing a limb or have an extra eye. I thought this was a really sensitive message and it reminded me of Julianna Baggott’s Pure trilogy (which is an absolutely amazing series of books which you must read if you haven’t already, especially if you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic writing).
I’m looking forward to the sequel to The Fire Sermon and I’m hoping to get my hands on a copy of it not long after it’s released. I think there’s definitely room for improvement in the next novel, especially when it comes to pacing, but overall it was a novel that didn’t churn up a lot of genre tropes and provided a sincere message.
Have you read The Fire Sermon? Let me know what you thought in the comments below!