Book Review #25: The Fire Sermon by Francesca Haig

Monday, 16 February 2015
Please note before you read this review that I am reviewing this publication for Gallery Books, an imprint of Simon & Schuster and Waterstones Read and Review Scheme. I received a digital advanced readers copy of this title from NetGalley and a physical bound copy from Waterstones in exchange for an honest review. In no way is my opinion of this title influenced by the fact that I received this publication free of charge. Now on with the review!

Product details:
Publisher: Gallery Books/Waterstones
Format: eBook/Hardback
Length: 384 pages
Published: February 2015
Rating: ☆☆☆☆
Source: Digital ARC from NetGalley/ Waterstones

When Zach and I were born our parents must have counted and recounted: limbs, fingers, toes. We were perfect. They would have been disbelieving: nobody dodged the split between Alpha and Omega. Nobody.They were born together and they will die together. One strong Alpha twin and one mutated Omega; the only thing they share is the moment of their death. The Omegas live in segregation, cast out by their families as soon as their mutation becomes clear. Forced to live apart, they are ruthlessly oppressed by their Alpha counterparts.The Alphas are the elite. Once their weaker twin has been cast aside, they're free to live in privilege and safety, their Omega twin far from their thoughts.
Cass and Zach are both perfect on the outside: no missing limbs, no visible Omega mutation. But Cass has a secret: one that Zach will stop at nothing to expose.The potential to change the world lies in both their hands. One will have to defeat the other to see their vision of the future come to pass, but if they're not careful both will die in the struggle for power.

The Fire Sermon is an upcoming release here in the UK, one that has been talked about and highly praised as being a book to look out for in 2015. Many have claimed that this is going to be the next big series, just as The Hunger Games and Divergent trilogy were. But does it really live up to all of it's praise and expectation? In many ways I would say that there are definately features of this book that do live up to that hype and I have to admit that I did thoroughly enjoy this book. There were times that I questioned whether I wanted to continue and my goodness was I glad that I did. Before I go into my in depth review I just want to say that if you are struggling with this book and this world and are considering giving up on it. Please don't, trust me it may seem a bit slow at times but the pace picks up and soon you're on an adventure you won't soon forget. So what did I think about it?

Cover- This cover is one that is extremely striking and very in your face. Right in the centre of the cover is the symbol which unifies this book. The Alpha and the Omega as one. It also serves as a striking image because of it's symbolism for the book. With the hot coals in the background, this symbol strikes as a branding iron, which for when you read it you realise plays as very important role in the story as the Omega's are all branded with that sign. The colour scheme is very dramatic, the burning orange metal against the dark black coals with that slither of heat working it's way between each one. The font on the cover is also very striking but I am not quite sure whether I like the way the word 'the' has been portrayed. That handwriting style font to me doesn't quite go and I would have liked to see some consistency throughout. It is just my personal opinion but I think if they had capitalisd the word and stuck to the same font then this would have been more appealing. I also want to mention the covers of the advanced readers copies that were sent out to reviewers in the UK. This doesn't apply I don't think to the US copies of this book but I could be wrong. Anyway, each copy was part of a set, you either received an Alpha copy or an Omega copy. See the image linked (here) to see the covers. However, each copy was also branded with a number and you had to go onto twitter and use the hashtag associated with your specific copy to find your twin. This is definitely a very clever use of marketing for this book and it worked really well in their favour as it has generated a lot of hype around the book reviewing community. However, as my copy was a digital ARC from the american publisher, this didn't apply to me but I thought it was important to note.

Plot - Right from the first couple of chapters I knew I was going to really enjoy this book. We kick off our story with our main narrator, Cass. It's told from present tense and she introduces herself to the reader and explains a bit about the world they live in. Futuristic, a major blast that wiped out half of the population, mutations over a series of decades and finally the world that she lives in today, where everyone is born one of a set of twins. These twins however aren't quite normal, they share a bond much like their appearance but this one could cost them their lives should one slip up. You see, if one of the twins sustains an injury or dies, so does the other twin. Killing two birds with one stone so to speak. However there is also something special about these twins, one is born an Alpha and one an Omega. The Alpha's are the leaders of society, embodiments of the perfect person, but an Omega will have some sort of deformity. Born with only one arm, missing an eye, or even something as subtle as being a seer and being able to foresee the future. Our main narrator Cass is a seer. After the brief description of this complex and wonderful world she goes on to explain her childhood with her twin Zack, and how she came to be where she is today, his prisoner. So the beginning of this book for me was very intense. Right from the start there is lots of crucial information regarding the development of our characters. Although the plot is wonderful in book, it is the character development that I really enjoyed. Although not all of it, but to that later. The backstory of the alpha/ omega separation and that of Zach and Cass' history is extremely well written and very informative. It has lots of realistic writing and vivid description within the first 5 chapters or so. However the pace starts to dip ever so slightly as one of our characters escapes her situation with another. For me the writing while characters were travelling during the first half of the novel was slightly sloppy and disjoined. It was strange and seemed a tad out of place considering up until this point the writing had been very fluid and concise. During what I call the travelling scenes it felt very long winded and at times I did find myself struggling to pace through it. However as we were introduced to a new setting and a set of realistic characters, it picked back up. Within this novel there is a romance that blossoms between Cass and Kip's characters and I have to admit in the first half of this book I was not a fan of it in the slightest. It seemed very rushed and forced on us as readers far to early in the story considering this is meant to be a trilogy. I would like some subtleness in the development of the characters relationships. Once again the pace and my interest dips during another 'travelling' scene. I did not find the fire scene appealing or necessary, it didn't add anything major to the story and to me just seemed sloppily written. Once again we're introduced to a new setting and new characters and as you can imagine the plot began to pick up again. There was some great development and introductions to characters, especially Piper which was nice to see. However, I unlike most people am not seeing this 'love triangle' that everyone goes on about between Cass, Kip and Piper. There just didn't seem to be enough evidence to bring Piper into the mix thank goodness. I am sick of love triangle by now. We are introduced to some big action scenes and great pacing. The writing was fantastic during these scenes and held my attention the entire of the way through. I was even feeling slightly suspenseful at times. Now this is for me where the plot really kicked off in terms of pacing. From this point on there are quite a few exploring/travelling scenes, but these scenes seemed to be on point in terms of writing and pace. I found that there wasn't as much description in these sections in comparison to the overkill on the description in previous travelling scenes. For me this meant it was a lot easier to get through and I appreciated it more. From this point onwards I have to admit I could start to see how a romance could blossom between Cass and Kip's characters. In my opinion, this is where the whole relationship should have built from, because they were sharing moments where up until this point they hadn't really touched on, there just seemed to be an abundance of unnecessary snogging. Around 90% of the way through this book I decided that the book should have ended, well actually a bit before that. After the invasion of the island, Cass and Kip sail off to escape. I felt that this would have been a perfect place to end the book and begin it up in the sequel as they try to find the other survivors. However I'm so glad it didn't. The ending was so intense and dramatic and although I kind of logically guessed that the Confessor would be Kip's twin, but I did not expect that Kip would commit suicide and therefore kill his twin. This was a large self sacrifice on his character's part and I think I would have liked to see that at perhaps the end of book 2, or 3. It was definitely not expected at the end of the first book. I'm just hoping that his death isn't permanent, that hopefully there is some sort of flaw in the system, some sort of loophole that will allow him to be alive. Hopefully something to do with how they kept him in the tanks because I don't think this story would do as well without him there. Otherwise it seems like the love has been built up all of this time for nothing, and I swear to the almighty if Haig decides to ship Cass and Piper together I will cry. Although I wasn't a huge fan of the romance at first, now I'm kind of shipping Cass and Kip majorly. Dating a dead dude will become a thing. I am sure.

So I've talked a lot about the plot, quite a bit more than I usually do, so what about the characters?

Characters - This novel introduced us to a vast range of characters, each quite distinguishable thanks to the amazingly developed writing of Francesca Haig. Although there are many I am going to talk mainly about Cass, and Kip with perhaps some brief mention of the other characters. One thing I just want to mention before hand is that because I read this over a longer period than I'm used too, I find my memory of character descriptions quite lacking and I'm not sure whether this is down to me and my memory or simply that I feel Haig didn't include a lot, especially for Cass' character. I just feel that I couldn't tell you exactly what each of them looked like in vivid detail. Cass' character is introduced to us through her narration right as the novel begins. I found her narration to be extremely realistic and made her character quite relatable. Being inside her head we got to see how her process of thinking worked in relation to her logical decisions as well as her gift of being a seer. Now although I found in the first half of this book that these seer abilities weren't really touched on, it was nice to see how they affected her. Overall she seemed quite a loveable character and I really admired her compassion about no matter who you killed, you were always killing double your intention. In this novel there is focus particularly on valuing life and thinking over your decisions and this was brought out wonderfully through Cass' character in her thinking. The one thing that did gripe me about her character was her thoughts and values when it came to romance. Everything in the first half or so as mentioned earlier kind of seemed a bit instal-love for me. Like it was only there to fill a gap and I feel it could have been developed a lot later considering it's a trilogy. Kip's character for me was probably my favourite in terms of the way he was written - being a walk around amnesiac a lot of his decisions and emotions were new and quite raw and I really liked that about him. Obviously due to his lack of memories he was in my mind quite a relatable character in terms of his choices and it was nice to see that his disability wasn't holding him back at all. I just hope that his character makes a return in the following books because I don't think I'll enjoy them as much. Zach's character for me was the typical villainous character but I liked how there was the constant reminder of family values and even though he was considered evil, he was still family in regards to the consequences. I felt however that I wasn't a fan of his change of heart at the end of the novel by letting Cass go. Yes I understand his desire to not make himself look bad, but you've been trying to catch Cass the entire novel, why not take her into custody and lie about how you found her? Piper's character was an average character and I am eager to see how his development grows in following instalments. I absolutely loved Zoe's character, she was so badass and just generally embodied everything I love in kick ass female's. She even had that dry subtle humour to her which in my mind just made her perfect, I am definitely looking forward to more of her in the next instalment, definitely my favourite all-rounder.

So overall The Fire Sermon is one long roller-coaster ride from beginning to end. The story entices and captivates the readers attention and simply begs for a sequel, especially after the significant twist that concludes the first book in a series. In agreement with the earlier statement, The Fire Sermon is definitely a debut novel to watch out for in 2015. Haig has written a solid dystopian novel that will thrill fans of the genre and I'm not surprised Dreamworks has optioned for the movie rights to this novel because it is truly stunning and will make a fantastic adaptation to the big screen. I award The Fire Sermon a 4 out of 5 stars!

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