Monday, 23 March 2015

The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Series: The Fire Sermon, Book One
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Format: ARC
Published26th February 2015
Number of Pages: 432
Book: ARC*
Genre: Dystopia, Post-Apocalyptic, Fantasy, High Fantasy, Paranormal, Magic, Romance, Mystery, Suspense, Action-Adventure, YA, YA-Adult Crossover
Recommended Age: 14+
Contains: Violence, Death, Swearing and Alcohol References
Author's Twitter: Francesca Haig (@FrancescaHaig)

“When Zach and I were born our parents must have counted and recounted: limbs, fingers, toes.  The complete set.
They would be disbelieving – nobody dodged the split between Alpha and Omega.

Born as twins.  Raised as enemies.
One strong Alpha twin and one mutated Omega; the only thing they share is the moment of their death.
The Omegas live in segregation, cast out by their families as soon as their mutation becomes clear.  Forced to live apart, they are ruthlessly oppressed by their Alpha counterparts.
The Alphas are the elite.  Once their weaker twin has been cast aside, they’re free to live in privilege and safety, their Omega twin far from their thoughts.
Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation.  But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose.
The potential to change the world lies in both their hands.  One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they’re not careful both will die in the struggle for power.

“The blast shattered time.  In an instant, it cleaved time irrevocably into Before and After.  Now, hundreds of year later, in the After, no survivors remained, no testimonies.  Only seers like me could glimpse it, momentarily, in the instant before waking, or ambushing us in the half-second of a blink: the flash, the horizon burning up like paper…”
After the world ended, the survivors began to have twins – all of them.  A boy and a girl.  One perfect, strong, healthy: an Alpha.  The other sick, deformed, weak, infertile: an Omega.  The Omegas are sent away – out of sight, out of mind, far away so they can't contaminate the Alphas.  But there's more: a link between the twins – they are tied together, their fates entwined.  If one is sick, so is the other.  If one dies, the other dies too.
Normally, it's easy to tell which twin is the Omega.  Not for Cass and Zach.  Both babies were perfect – but no one escapes.  Cass hid a secret for thirteen years – that she was a seer, an Omega with strange and powerful abilities.  She is discovered and sent away.  She begins to build a life for herself in the Omega settlement.
But then Zach gains political power and he sends someone to grab Cass.  To stay safe, he locks her away, isolates her, sends another seer to interrogate her.  Haunted by visions, she slowly begins to lose control...
Her twin is not the boy he used to be.  He isn't the person she played with, whispered with in the night.  
And so she decides to escape.  She needs to leave – before Zach hurts her more, before her visions come true.
Along with an amnesiac one-armed Omega, Cass goes on the run, desperately searching for the one place she will be safe: the rumoured Omega-rebellion-ruled island.  But with the way Alphas treat their Omegas shifting, getting worse with every passing moment, would they even be safe on the island...?
Wow.  Just... wow.  I really don't know where to start with The Fire Sermon.  It was so stunning.  It took the dystopian genre, turned it on its head and made it about a million times more amazing.  I was expecting great things from The Fire Sermon – impossibly great things, I thought.  But it lived up to every single one of my expectations – and totally overtook them.  I adored the writing, world-building, characters and plot lines.  I adored the addictiveness, the suspense, the excitement.  And I just can't believe I have to wait a whole freaking year until the second book comes out.  I don't know how I'll survive so long!
Cass was amazing – damaged, but so strong, naive, but smart too.  I adored her and just know she's going to continue growing to be a truly strong leading lady.  Maybe she needs to be a little less trusting, a little more worldly, but I kind of liked that about her: that even though she's a Seer, even though she sees horrible things so often, she's still hopeful, idealistic.  It was a nice change to all the cynical antagonists we see nowadays.  She's also totally real and relatable; she felt just like someone I'd meet in the real world today.
And I really loved Kip: he was adorable!  He was just the sweetest and loveliest and funniest and cutest thing!  He was good and kind, without being as naive as Cass – which is odd, since he was the amnesiac one with no memories of himself...  But I loved Kip and I loved the relationship between him and Cass – how naturally it grew, how adorable they were together.
Piper really grew on me as the book went on.  I began a little nervous of him, a little sceptical.  But he was so brave and good and honourable.  I really liked him by the end – especially with that little twist...
As for Zach...  God, I don't know what to do with Zach.  It was clear Cass still loved him – he was her brother, after all – but he was so horrid to Omegas.  I just... don't know what to do with him.  I mean, the relationship between Cass and him killed me.  My little brothers are twins, and they always have each other’s backs.  That's what being a twin should be – what being siblings should be.  To see the way Zach treated Cass... horrible.  To see the way all Alphas treated Omegas (and, at times, Omegas treated Alphas) was horrifying and devastating.  But the way Cass felt for Zach, the way she tried to look after him, even after everything he'd done... it was so beautiful.
There were scores of other small characters, some I adored, some I hated.  The one that terrified me the most was, of course, The Confessor: that woman was evil and terrifying!  I truly admired the character development in the story: they all felt real, even the small characters, even the ones who were so different from today.  Amazing.
The writing was so, so beautiful – haunting, descriptive, addictive, elegant, authentic.  Like how Cass described a battle: it held nothing back, no sweet sugar coatings.  It was bloody and honest, and the lyrical way it was written made it beautiful and dreadful and, strangely, real.   Cass felt real: her voice was authentic and beautiful and so absorbing.  Not many authors can put me instantly under a spell when writing fiction such as this (with huge amounts of world-building) but Francesca managed it effortlessly and left me wanting more.
As for the plot... I'll admit, there were definite slow-burner moments in the book, but the racking-up of suspense made up for that.  Also, in the first books of epic fiction like this, there has to be time for world-building!  But more on that in a minute.  Back to the plot: I really loved it.  It was unpredictable and gripping and amazing.  I was totally hooked and desperate to know how everything would end.  I had a few ideas of where it was all going: many turned out to be so very wrong, some were right and some were in the general(ish) vicinity.  I do like being surprised – generally speaking.  But this part at the end... a few parts really... just NO!  No, Francesca, how can you do this to me?  Not only have you done... that... but you've also left off in a place that will drive me crazy with unanswered questions 'til the second book comes out next year.  And so again I go NOOO!
But this world... wow wow wow.  It was so just breath-taking.  And, in an odd way, so real.  Sure, it's a dystopian world where one 'perfect' twin is just awful to the 'flawed' twin.  It's a world with secret islands, dreadful experiments, seers, rebellions and a sinister Council.  But the way all these people act is so human, so real and believable.  I couldn't – still can't – quite put my finger on what it was that made this world so three-dimensional, real and tangible to me, but it was there.  I saw Cass, Kip and the Keeping Rooms, Piper and the island, in my head as I read.  This world... it blew me away.  It was horrible and it was brilliant.  I can't wait to go back.
I also think The Fire Sermon has true crossover appeal: teens will love it, but adults will too.  It's not like Hunger Games or Divergent, which are definitely aimed at teenagers.  The Fire Sermon is both perfect for the typical YA audience, but is also sophisticated enough for adults to adore it too.  
As for the upcoming (hopefully!) film adaption, I'm very interested to see how they will do it.  It looks like it's got a great team and the breath-taking scenery will look stunning on the big screen.  I'm really hoping they do this great book justice!
I've said something similar before, in other reviews, but I simply must say it again for this book: The Fire Sermon had a magic to it, something different and unique and beautiful and utterly compelling.  I was drawn in from the very first sentence and not let go for all four-hundred-and-seventeen pages, not even for one moment.  I know The Fire Sermon won't be everyone's cup of tea, but I adored it – if you haven't gathered that by this point!
The Fire Sermon was unique and beautiful and chilling and addictive.  If you're looking for an eloquent dystopian novel with an epic-fantasy feel to it, I honestly can't recommend The Fire Sermon enough.  I will be dying until the next book and want to tell you all now: Francesca Haig is an author to watch!  If this is how amazing her debut novel is... I can't wait for her second!

Star Rating:
4¼  Out of 5

Read this book if you liked:
The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
The Chronicles of Ixia by Maria V. Snyder
The Sin-Eater's Daughter by Melinda Salisbury
Throne of Glass by Sarah J. Maas
Grisha by Leigh Bardugo

Happy Reading
* This book was received from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review

** Quotes used are from a proof copy and may have been changed in the finished book

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