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Literature / The Fire Sermon

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The Fire Sermon, published in 2015, is the first book in a planned trilogy of Dystopian/post-apocalyptic novels by poet and author Francesca Haig. Set 400 years after a global thermonuclear war, humanity has regressed back to Dark Ages-level technology, and every baby born comes with a twin with whom they are fatally bonded—one Alpha, one Omega. When one twin dies, the other dies at exactly the same time. The Alphas force their Omega twins to live apart from them, oppressed and isolated, while they gather and hoard what scarce resources are available for themselves.

Our heroine, Cass, is an Omega, but a rare kind of Omega: instead of a deformation, as most Omegas exhibit, she is instead physically normal. The caveat is her power of psychic fore- and hindsight. Her Seer abilities, plus the fact that she's the twin of a powerful member of the Alpha Council, marks her as a target, especially since she wants nothing more than for Alphas and Omegas to coexist as equals—an idea which her brother, Zach, isn't too fond of...

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DreamWorks apparently decided they liked the premise enough to buy the film rights to the book before it was even published. Wordof God also says the second book in the trilogy will be released in January 2016.


The Fire Sermon contains examples of:

  • After the End: The book takes place four hundred years after a global nuclear war. The ruins of the Before are considered taboo, and off limits to everyone, and society now shuns the technology used in the Before in favour of medieval tech. And the best part? Seers like Cass get to relive the Blast in their dreams.
  • Apocalyptic Log: In the form of the visions of the Blast that Cass and every other Seer experiences.
  • Artistic License – Economics: Given the resources required to keep a person in an ICU bed, the Council's scheme to take half their workforce and 'tank' them for life seems doomed to failure.
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  • Artistic License – Nuclear Physics/I Love Nuclear Power: Radiation in the book lingers far longer than it would in real life, and somehow managed to mutate human DNA in such a way as to cause every pregnancy to result in fatally-bonded twins, always fraternal boy/girl pairs, one physically healthy, and one either deformed or clairvoyant. Justified, as the premise wouldn't work without this trope.
  • The Beforetimes: Referred to as "the Before". Places, technology, and artifacts of the Before are Taboo, and no-one is allowed to go anywhere near them.note 
  • Crapsack World: Even four hundred years after the Blast, much of the land remains contaminated, many animals are deformed, some waterways are described as running black, and most regions of the planet seem to be cut off from everyone else. Every human pregnancy results in a pair of twins: one male, one female, one (the Alpha) physically perfect, the other (the Omega) either deformed in some way or a clairvoyant who will eventually go mad from visions of the Blast. If your twin dies, you die at exactly the same time. On top of that, if you're an Omega, you will spend the vast majority of your life in what are effectively ghettos, completely separated from your twin and your parents, barely scraping by farming on the most blighted land, and having a portion of what little you do make taken by the Alphas as a tithe. Oh, and you'll never be able to have kids of your own, because all Omegas are infertile, you're not allowed to get married, you aren't allowed to go to school, and you're not allowed to eat meat or keep animals of any kind either. Hell, the only reason the Alphas don't outright kill their twins is because they'll die themselves if they do.
  • Fantastic Racism: The book's central conflict between Alphas and Omegas hinges on the Alphas' knee-jerk fear and hatred of their less fortunate twins.
  • Forbidden Zone: Any remnant of the Before is taboo and off limits to everyone—cities, nuclear missile silos, and definitely any kind of technology from the Before. Omegas are also generally forbidden from living in or visiting Alpha settlements.
  • Guile Hero: Cass. Rather than fighting, she tends towards outwitting the people she comes into conflict with. Some of her notable ploys include chopping the hair off her favourite doll and transferring the doll's dress to one she didn't care about as much, all in order to foil her brother's plan to reveal that she's a Seer by hiding her favourite doll somewhere when she wasn't looking. Later, she covertly sets a forest fire to keep the Alphas trying to seal up an Omega settlement from completing the wall, as well as to keep them from pursuing her and Kip.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: After the Confessor reveals that Kip is, in fact, an Alpha, and her twin, Kip commits suicide by jumping off a high ledge in the Confessor's secret lair in order to stop her and save Cass.
  • Identity Amnesia: Kip has no idea who he really is. He remembers everything else about the world around him, but he has completely lost all of his personal memories.
  • La Résistance: The Omega Resistance on the Island, which Cass and Kip spend a good chunk of the book trying to reach. They're Omegas who have removed themselves from the Alpha-dominated society and defy the laws Alphas have set in place to control their Omega twins. They don't register with the Alpha government, and they help other Omegas escape from their Alpha overlords, even taking kids away before they've been branded.
  • Meaningful Name: The main character is a clairvoyant named Cassandra. Gee, wonder why?
  • Ruins of the Modern Age: At one point in the story, Cass, Kip, and Zoey traverse through the ruins of a city from the Before to avoid an Alpha settlement. The psychic impressions left in the place are so strong, Cass thought the town was still intact and bustling.
  • Well-Intentioned Extremist: Piper, leader of the Omega Resistance. While he wants to end the oppression of Omegas by the Alphas, he has no regard for the fact that every time the Resistance kills an Alpha, an Omega dies as well, which Cass goes to great pains to remind him of. He doesn't seem to listen.
  • Year Zero: Society has set their Year Zero as the day of the nuclear war, which they call The Blast. Everything that happened prior to the war is called the Before, and most people want nothing to do with the events or remnants of that time. Everything that happens afterwards is called the After.
  • You Can't Go Home Again: Omegas are torn away from their families and sent to an Omega settlement (read: ghetto) as quickly as possible—generally as soon as evidence of Omega-dom shows up. The government might delay if it's immediately obvious which twin is the Omega at birth, but only long enough to ensure they no longer need to be breastfed, and always to give the brand all Omegas receive time to heal. After this, they generally don't see their families again, and they're not allowed to return to their family's home. Ever. Cass is unusual because, as a Seer, she looks perfectly normal, and used her exceptional cunning to hide the fact that she's a Seer for thirteen years. Her brother finally out-gambitted her by pretending to be the Omega, knowing Cass wouldn't let him be branded in her place.

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