Set on a future Earth, after some sort of giant flash-bang, that I eventually decided was probably nuclear war, animal life has gone all wonky, including human animals. In the case of homo sapiens, people are born in pairs, called Alpha and Omega. Alpha’s are born “perfect,” with no visible abnormalities. Omega’s are usually born with a visible abnormality, but some appear “normal” while actually having mental abilities, and are known as Seers.
Being a Seer brings no special privileges in the divided Alpha/Omega society, and can lead to additional oppression or hardship, as both segments fear Seers’ power, even as they seek to exploit it.
Cass is the heroine of The Fire Sermon, a seer who manages to hide her abilities from everyone, including her twin, Zach, until they are tweens, although Zach suspects. Zach eventually “outs” Cass, and she is branded and cast out, to either survive alone or find other Omegas.
I think the world-building is the weakest part of the novel. Ms Haig paints both societies, Alpha and Omega, in broad strokes with little history or context. Elements of each society are detailed when they directly pertain to Cass’s adventures, but the focus of the story is on people. Characters are richly detailed and distinct, even those encountered once and briefly, and so do most of the heavy plot lifting.
I enjoyed the unflinching examination of ability, disability, and ableism in the book. At times, I was made uncomfortable, my own assumptions and biases brought to light, which was awesome, but at other times, I found the rampant anti-Omega discrimination hard to believe. Fundamentally, I think I believe that compassion is the norm, so I couldn’t completely fall into the story: the basis of the social system was just too inhumane and abhorrent for me. It built up into a logical conclusion from the internal story logic, but the fundamental precis was too personally dissonant.
Also, I was a little disappointed that Cass’s character was singled out as some sort of super-Omega. Not only is Cass a Seer, and someone who can pass as either an Alpha or a regular Omega with minimal effort, but even as a Seer, Cass is special. A little predictable, that.
Hmm. It appears that I thought this book was fine: some interesting questions, well-written, but incomplete world-building, and trite hero and villain tropes made it ultimately disappointing.
2016 Hugo Eligibility: Yes
Publisher: Gallery Books, USA
Genre: Science Fantasy, with significant social commentary