Author: Francesca Haig
I picked up The Fire Sermon because I love sibling fiction, almost as much as I love boarding school fiction and, at first glance, that’s exactly what TFS claimed to be.
Although having read it, I’d have to disagree, certainly, there are siblings (they’re everywhere, part of the premise is that everyone is a sibling) and it’s a very important plot point, but the complex relationships I would argue define the genre, in light of the fantasy dynamic the siblings take on here, is nearly completely absent.
How, exactly is the plot about siblings without void of sibling relationships? Well; TFS is set in a post-apocalyptic world where only twins are born. One perfect, on deformed, the Alpha and the Omega. Thought to be the embodiment of the radiation that scorched the world the Omega’s are branded and shunned. The Alpha’s would probably get rid of them entirely, if it weren’t for the fact that when one of the pair dies the other always checks out too.
So while I realized pretty early on that the complexities of siblinghood as we know it would not be rearing its head I forgave the book for two reasons: One; You read that premise and tell me you aren’t intrigued. Two; the books really bloody good.
It’s certainly not perfect, yet for all its faults I can point to two things that I thought were awesome and, even if that weren’t the case, it’s been a while since a book suckered me in and immersed me so completely I forgot to feed myself.
A large part of this was the plot. There’s a big overarching thing, a world of woe in a scared and cruel world, kind of shtick, it was above average but nothing I would write home about. But most of the book is focused on the journey of the two leads, and the simplicity of trying to get somewhere through hostile territory, the characters and reader knowing nothing beyond the road in front of them, and the traveling and bonding our leads do together.
It was all very Sam and Frodo from Lord of the Rings, only with less jewelry, sexual tension, and Frodo whinging.
I say this partly in jest (You know I love you LOTR) but also to make a point: Haig has rejected the concept, that so many modern authors ascribe to, that brooding is fun, and just because a book has serious themes we should be miserable all the time. Despite their harsh predicament our protagonist’s provide constant levity in their optimistic attitudes, making jokes to ease discomfort – like what a human might do.
Of course, a lot of the book is serious, the post-apocalyptic world is no comedy club, but these stretches of optimism give a real tangible feeling of our lead characters hope, raising the stakes more efficiently than constant misery every could.
This leads nicely into my next point; I liked the leads. Kip especially, since I think it says a lot that someone with amnesia can have more personality than a hundred Cullen’s.
Cassandra (the protagonist protagonist, in that we see the world from her POV), I liked too, although not in the same way. For the book to really shine I thought she could have done with a flaw or two. As it was she was more of a kick-ass Mary-Sue. Saying that, she made a good job of it, actually being kick ass and not swooning over hunky boys; she was a major plot player and had better things to do. So while I could never empathize with someone too far from human and too close to superhero, I did have a great time pretending to be her.
It’s strange, because usually when you stumble across a good ol’ Mary Sue you can strap in for some good trashy fiction. However, that’s really not the case here, TFS descriptions of traveling were graphic and had a gritty realism to them. The social ramifications of the Alpha/Omega dynamic are well considered and presented in a thought-provoking way. And the madness, that grips Cassandra near the beginning is not sexy or something for her to be saved from, but very real and unsettling.
My biggest complaint would be I thought the ‘Big Reveal’ TM, was a bit of a misstep, in that I was, by around a third of the way through, pretty sure I knew what it was going to be.
I’m not the smartest screwdriver in the box, as the saying doesn’t go, so if you’re looking for something to keep you guessing this may not be the book for you.
None the less this book is getting a big fat recommend stamp, for the journey it takes you on, sucking you in like immersing your face in a bowl of jelly.