Book Review: “The Fire Sermon” by Francesca Haig

Imagine if everyone had a twin, inextricably linked, yet entirely separate.

Cover of "Fire Sermon" by Francesca Haig

Trigger warning for discussion of ableism.

The Fire Sermon is set four centuries in the future, after an apocalyptic nuclear blast has shot humanity back into a primitive era. The radiation from the explosion changed a lot — technology has regressed, many animals are deformed, and human reproduction is fundamentally different. For years, it looked like people would die out, but then that turned around.

Now every pregnancy results in twins, but there’s a catch. The twins are always one male and one female, and one is healthy but the other has some sort of abnormality or deformity — often physical, but sometimes mental. The healthy twin is called the Alpha, the “abnormal” one is the Omega (yes, this is an entire social system built on blatant ableism). Omegas are branded and sent away as soon as their status becomes apparent, which could be at birth or later, depending on what their issue is. Parents do not want their imperfect child, but they cannot be killed — twins are linked, see, and on top of being born together (obviously), one can feel the other’s extreme pain, and one’s death will kill the other as well. Omegas are usually raised by other Omegas — relatives, generally, as they cannot reproduce themselves.

Cass and Zach are twins, but they were not separated as soon as many others, staying together until they were 13. Cass is the Omega, but instead of a physical abnormality, she is a seer. She has a certain amount of psychic ability, and manages to hide it for many years before she is sent away.

Zach goes on to join the Council, a sort of tyrannical government entity formed by the Alphas. He has his enemies, of course, so he has to keep them from using Cass to do away with him. So he has his sister imprisoned in what is called the Keeping Rooms. On top of keeping her out of harm’s way, she can be interrogated about her visions. She keeps seeing flashes of an island, somewhere the Omegas are gathering to form a sort of resistance.

After years in a dank cell, under the only electric light she has ever seen (artificial power sources are forbidden), Cass escapes. She has had visions of a room of cruel imprisonment, and manages to free one of these prisoners as she leaves.

From there, Cass and her new friend Kip must make their way across the terrain, trying to find this island. I won’t go any further so as not to spoil the ending, but suffice to say, the concept for this universe is an interesting one. The story is told from Cass’s point of view, and she passionately demonstrates how wrong the ableist segregation of this society is. It might be uncomfortable to imagine a land where babies are sent away because of a disability, but it’s also somewhat metaphorical to our own world. The Omegas are subject to slurs like “freak” and “dead end,” barred from any real chance at a good life, and subject to harsh policing and government mistreatment.

This book is an interesting read for any fan of dystopian lit. There are factors that harken to other well-known series — the separation between haves and have-nots found in The Hunger Games, the journey of Matched, and the spunky heroine of, well, all of them. It’s an entertaining story with a slightly different point of view, and worth checking out if you’re into the genre.

3.5/5 stars

The Fire Sermon was released on March 10, 2015. I received a free copy from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

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[E] Liza

PhD student. Knitter. Brooklynite. Long-distance dog mom. Reluctant cat lady. Majestic unicorn whose hair changes color with the wind.

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