The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
**Thank you to Gallery, Threshold, Pocket Books and NetGalley for providing me with a digital ARC of this novel**
I should probably also thank Sarah Churchill (https://www.youtube.com/user/ClumsinessisaCurse) for first making me aware of this book. She hauled it back in October, explained the concept and intrigued me enough to jump at the chance of requesting this ARC when it popped up on NetGalley.
And it’s probably a good thing that this was first pitched to me by Sarah because ‘THE HUNGER GAMES meets THE ROAD’ isn’t necessarily something I would normally jump at reading. Also, this book didn’t remind me of THE HUNGER GAMES in the slightest — seriously…not at all. It did, however, remind me of THE DARKEST MINDS by Alexandra Bracken and even smidgens of UNDER THE NEVER SKY by Veronica Rossi; and, yes, it did remind me of Cormac McCarthy’s THE ROAD as well.
That being said, this is not a quick moving book. I’m surprised that this is being pitched as YA, not only because of the age of the characters, but also because of the pacing. While the novel lists at just under 400 pages, it feels even longer. The story progresses quite slowly and has the sense of being redundant: Cass and Kip spend the majority of the novel on the run through the post-apocalyptic world of Haig’s imagination and, trust me, there’s little-to-no joy during this trip. Despite all this, the slowness of the book is not entirely bad: it’s actually almost hypnotic. The world that Francesca Haig builds in this novel is intoxicating in its simplicity and in its hearkening back to post-WWII fears of nuclear holocaust. Old and new world crash against each other in a terrifying and eerie possibility.
That being said, the one bad thing about the slower pace is that it more clearly exposed a few problems I had with the novel: the characters. While Cass and Kip (our primary protagonists) are not entirely unappealing, I certainly cannot ignore the fact that Cass exhibits little-to-no development over the course of the story. I understand that her ability to see “through the injustice of the system” attitude is integral to who she is as a character — as well as, I’m sure, the overall plot of the trilogy — it keeps her completely stagnant. I wasn’t expecting an extreme arc for her, given this is the first novel of a trilogy, but even a small amount of development would have done wonders. From beginning to end, Cass remains the same, and that is extremely frustrating. As for Kip, I was much more attached to him as a character than I was to Cass because, as can be guessed: he developed. He changed. He was active in the story and had some fire to him. I may not have entirely banked on their romance, but I did become attached to Kip on the whole.
At the end of the day, this is a promising start to what looks to be an interesting trilogy. I may not be entirely sure what to make of it, but I sense that may end up being a theme among readers of this one.