Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

The Fire SermonA review by Nalini Haynes

ISBN: 9780007563067
ISBN 10: 000756306X
Format: paperback, 432 pages
Imprint: Voyager – GB (HarperCollins)
On Sale: February 23, 2015

Cass and Zach are perfect twins in a post-apocalyptic world where one twin is always born Alpha (‘normal’) and the other twin is always an Omega (has a disability or is a seer). The split in society is catastrophic and final: the Omega twin is always sent away to protect Alphas from contamination.

The Alphas claim the best land, shunting Omegas into poorer land where they struggle to feed themselves and yet are taxed even through famine. In recent years, Alphas have been forcing Omegas further out or into refugee camps. The only thing restraining Alphas is that when their Omega twin dies, so does the corresponding Alpha twin.

You’d think they’d take better care of their Omega twins so the Alphas would live longer, but an underlying fear of the Omegas, of being disabled or tainted, skews Alpha thinking and the structure of their society.

Cass, being a seer, manages to hide her difference until she’s thirteen when her twin, Zach, tricks her into revealing herself so she’s branded and sent away. From his position of superior entitlement, Zach feels that Cass has made him suffer and has stolen from him, even when she went hungry during the drought years. Zach is like those men who claim that women seeking equality are stealing their entitlement and threatening their way of life.

Zach has Cass kidnapped and imprisoned for his personal safety but things don’t go according to plan.

I particularly love how Cass is rejected even by the Omega people because she’s not physically deformed, making her suspect even after being branded and rejected by her family. She is neither Alpha nor Omega in their eyes, therefore she is bereft of real community. This is such an accurate portrayal of disability culture that, at times, my breath caught and my eyes moistened.

Haig winks at the audience by naming a major city Wyndham, emphasising her parallels to Chrysalids. Something bugged me about the Confessor until I realised her seeking Cass was very Eye of Sauron–like. There are also parallels with Andre Norton’s Witch World series, Terry Brooks’s Shannara series and many more.

The Fire Sermon is riveting with engaging characters, a fast-paced plot and a few twists along the way. Most importantly of all, The Fire Sermon is a book about disability, the class divide and the underlying fear and loathing motivating Alphas/’norms’. There is also romance, a kind of ‘whodunnit’, political intrigue, a resistance, a rounding up of the Jews/Asians/[insert ethnic minority here] and much more.

Francesca Haig is a Tasmanian living in London. I expect The Fire Sermon will be shortlisted for the Norma K Hemming Award next year for its representation of disability and its discussion of disability, class and gender issues (overt and symbolised). It’s too early to predict any winners but if The Fire Sermon isn’t shortlisted I Will. Have. Words.

Rating: full starfull starfull starfull starfull star5 out of 5 stars