Sunday, October 11, 2015

Book Review: The Fire Sermon, by Francesca Haig

Review by: Rachel Gonzales

It was midharvest when they came. I felt it first. Had been feeling it, if I were honest with myself, for months. But now I sensed it clearly, a sudden alertness that I could never explain to anybody who wasn’t a seer. It was a feeling of something shifting: like a cloud moving across the sun, or the wind changing direction.

This first novel in a planned trilogy begins the story of seer Cass, living in a future that is terrifyingly backward and inhumane, who must endure not only her visions, but also the knowledge that she is the twin sister of Zach, a powerful man who will stop at nothing to protect her - but why?

Official Synopsis:
Four hundred years after a nuclear apocalypse, the Alphas have inherited the earth - or what’s left of it. All humans are born in pairs, the deformed Omegas getting split from their flawless twins and exiled to bleak farming villages while the Alphas exploit and oppress them almost unto death. But despite their claims of superiority, the Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: Whenever one twin dies, so does the other.

Cass is a rare Omega whose mutation is psychic foresight - not that she needs it to know that as her powerful twin, Zach, ascends the ranks of the ruling Alpha Council, she’s in grave danger. Zach has a devastating plan for Omega annihilation. Cass has visions of an island where bloody Omega resistance promises a life of freedom. But her real dream is to discover a middle way, one that would bring together the sundered halves of humanity. And that means both the Council and the resistance have her in their sights.

Truth-telling time: I’m a certified middle- and high-school English teacher, so when I say reading is one of my hobbies, I’m not kidding. I read a lot, and I’m fairly indiscriminate. I read anything and everything (almost: I find Jonathan Franzen insufferable and unreadable). If someone recommends a book, even half-heartedly, I’ll check it out. If the cover art looks the least bit interesting, I’ll give the book a go. Most of the time, it works out well for me.

In this case, with The Fire Sermon, it worked out fantastically. Because, as much as I love to read books, it is not often than any of them are particularly memorable. But this one … oh, boy, this one. I didn’t so much read this novel as I did consume and devour it. It took me less than two days to finish it, not because it is an “easy” read but because it is so engrossing. I stayed up until after 2:00 in the morning reading, which hasn’t happened in a long time (maybe not since Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows).

There are a lot of great things I could say about this book, but I feel like a lot of them might be spoilers, so here is what I can tell you without giving anything away: This is technically an adult fiction title, as opposed to YA, but I would have no problem recommending this to my students who enjoy many of the dystopian series that are “having a moment” right now (The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Maze Runner, Matched, et al.). I found myself often asking, “What is even happening right now?” but I like that feeling. The twists - and there are always twists - were unexpected, but in an organic way. I didn’t try to “solve” the book before the end. Characters are developed well; they all behave in ways that make actual sense even if you completely disagree with them.

I cannot recommend this book enough to lovers of dystopian fiction, with one major caveat: this is the first novel in a planned trilogy, and based on the author’s Twitter feed, it doesn’t look like the second book is finished yet, so who knows when the next one will be out? Otherwise, I give this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.

About the reviewer:

Rachel Gonzales is a wife, mom, theatre geek, and substitute high school teacher (not necessarily in that order) from Pennsylvania. She reads anything and everything, including bizarro comic books that she finds on dusty old shelves in the back of the toy store near the mogwai. Her favorite color is purple and her favorite punctuation mark is the Oxford comma.


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