The Fire Sermon – Francesca Haig

I’ve mentioned before about having the best job in the world haven’t I? You know, getting to read lots of books and talk to customers about them? Access to cake? Not to mention all my lovely customers? Well, some weeks it is even better than that – and last week was one such. For I had not one but two evenings out courtesy of those wonderful folk at Harpercollins. On the Wednesday I made my way over to Manchester (or the dark side as I have learned to call it since moving to Yorkshire) with a colleague to hear from three children’s authors – Sophie Cleverley (who was wearing the most amazing dress), Shane Hegarty (who was exactly the charming Irish chap he sounds like) and Holly Smale (who apologised for having to rush off after the talk – she had a book to finish in four weeks and had snuck out to attend the event: shades of Douglas Adams, I feel). Their books are now on my ever huge to-read pile and will be reviewed as soon as I get to them!

The main reason I didn’t dive straight into my stack of children’s books was because of last week’s other publisher event – held in Leeds on Tuesday by Harper Voyager, Harpercollins’ imprint for Sci-Fi, Fantasy and Horror. I’d started flicking through a proof by one of the authors that lunchtime, was a quarter of the way through by the time I got to the event and wasn’t going to be stopping until I’d reached the end.

fire sermon

This book (and the Joe Abercrombie titles I blagged at the same event) are sci-fi/fantasy titles which, while not specifically young adult books, are certainly suitable for that audience. But not so much so that they feel too ‘young’ for more mature readers. Don’t get me wrong, I really enjoy quite a lot of YA books (the Dancing Jax series, Half Bad by Sally Green and many more) but I am, allegedly, a grown-up and like to have a good range of ages represented in my reading. Anyway, I digress…

In the world created here every person born is a twin – always a boy and a girl. One perfectly healthy and robust: one deformed in some way. And when one twin dies so does the other. From this fairly simple but intriguing premise a plot develops. Our heroine, Cass, is not split from her twin until they are 13 – her ‘deformity’ is mental rather than physical and she is able to hide her status as a seer for many years – so she develops a closer relationship to her brother than is usual. However, when her brother rises to a position of power we find that he doesn’t seem to feel the same closeness with her. It is explained that the twins, and particularly the deformed siblings (known and branded as Omegas), are the result of some kind of a nuclear holocaust. For most of the perfect twins (Alphas) their other halves are something to be feared and even blamed for the evil in the world. Omegas are shunned and hated by Alphas – yet it is necessary that they exist in order for the Alphas to continue to live.  And the easiest way to kill a powerful Alpha is through their twin…

There is an adventure story here, a smattering of love interest and lots of the world’s internal politics. But there is also a lot to think about – I found myself wondering about how we feel about our own Omegas (the disabled, the poor, the other) – and some rather beautifully turned phrases. Francesca Haig is an academic and poet as well as a novelist which I think really shows in this well thought out and well written tale. I’m looking forward to the next installment already.