A review by Nalini Haynes
The Map of Bones is the second in a trilogy, following The Fire Sermon (review here). They are set in a post-apocalyptic world where everyone is born as a twin: one twin is perfect while the other carries the full impact of nuclear radiation in his or her body. Every pair of twins is linked: they both die at the same time, regardless if accident, illness or injury only affects one of the twins leaving the other’s body unmarked.
Disabilities vary from blindness to loss of limbs to being a seer (being able to see the future). Cass is a seer but hides it until she becomes a teenager, when she’s branded with an omega on her forehead and exiled from the Alpha community.
Cass goes to live with the omegas but, eventually, becomes caught up in the resistance, leaving her peaceful village behind. This is all in The Fire Sermon (book 1); now, in The Map of Bones, she has to live with the consequences of what happened in book 1, questioning herself while her visions slowly drive her insane.
Meanwhile, the Alphas want to ‘tank’ all Omegas (put them in a form of stasis) to reduce the strain on resources and to maintain control of the world; Cass’s ruthless brother Zach is one of the key Alpha leaders.
Writing disability is inherently problematic. Cass’s disability is her ability to see the future, it’s considered a curse not a gift and alienates her from other Omegas. This disability goes hand-in-hand with mental illness because the visions drive all seers ‘mad’, rendering them incapable of performing basic functions to survive.
Francesca Haig does not identify as disabled herself but she’s studied disability theory. In this trilogy, Haig engages successfully with disability theory, exploring many issues, including hierarchies within the disability community. And Cass’s visions are NOT because she’s blind. [Can I get a HELL YEAH?]
However, Cass’s ability to sense or ‘see’ structures in the environment, an ability that goes far beyond future-sight into psychic abilities, is rather convenient. Haig walks the knife-edge of ‘because plot’, slips and cuts herself a little here.
The Map of Bones gets a high distinction for the Bechdel Test: women are scattered throughout hierarchies in Alpha and Omega communities and Cass, the main point of view character, interacts with all genders throughout the novel, in groups and in isolation.
This is a novel about people regardless of gender although queer relationships are frowned upon (and, for Alphas, can result in punishment) because of a perceived responsibility to ‘populate or perish’ in spite of inadequate resources causing social problems for both castes. (Perhaps this is social comment on the political right maintaining anti-queer and anti-abortion stances regardless of Earth’s limited resources?) However, Cass and her friends are accepting regardless of sexual preferences.
Haig’s academic thesis is about the post–World War II holocaust, which is evident in many aspects of this post-apocalyptic world. Her themes cover everything from an untouchable caste to branding, concentration camps and an attempt at genocide.
As an award-winning poet, Haig’s prose is, at times, superlative. As a novel about social issues including disability, Haig’s trilogy is comparable to Bareback by Kit Whitfield and The Courier’s New Bicycle by Kim Westwood (the latter is about a queer character but the themes and culture translates effortlessly). However, the plot races to the finish like New Bicycle. I highly recommend The Map of Bones.
Rating: 4 and 1/2 out of 5 stars
ISBN 10: 0007563094
Format: paperback — my copy is an uncorrected proof but they have SEXY HARDCOVER now :*( — 448 pages
Publisher: Voyager (HarperCollins)