***SBRs 4th Best Read for 2013***
Publication date: 29th January 2013
Published by: Self-published
Genre: Sci-fi/Dystopia (YA)
I was familiar with David Estes’ books before I read Fire Country as I have read his Dwellers series and enjoyed it very much. For some reason I did not want to know too much about this one before reading, so I purposely avoided the synopsis and reviews and got straight to reading.
Fire Country is set on futuristic earth. It is clear that several hundred years previously a catastrophe occurred on earth on an apocalyptic scale. The air became toxic rendering the surface uninhabitable. Several hundred years into the future and humans do now survive on the surface, but not for long (their average life expectancy is early 30s).
Fire Country is the terrain where this story is set. It is harsh land under a harsher crimson sky. The climate is hot all year round. The inhabitants are known as ‘Heaters’ and live a relatively primitive tribal existence. The leader of the tribe is Roan the Greynote, a hard man who reminded me of Okonkwo in Chinua Achebe’s Things fall Apart. Like Things fall Apart, the men of the tribe dominate and are able to have up to 3 wives. In fact, it is a requirement by law and is considered essential for the continuation of the tribe’s existence. As such, girls at 16 are required to become ‘Bearers’ and are subjected to a ceremony called ‘The Call’ where they are effectively handed over to one of the tribesmen as their property. Their sole function in life thereafter is to procreate and rear offspring, who will become future Greynotes (the leaders), Hunters (as the name suggests and exclusively male) or Bearers.
The main protagonist is Siena, Roan’s 15 year old daughter. Time is running out for her as she is approaching her 16th birthday and a fate that does not bear thinking about. She feels helpless and trapped until someone called Lara suggests to her that there is another way to live …
I know there are a lot of dystopian young-adult novels out there, so you might be thinking ‘Oh no, not another one.’ But believe me this book is well worth reading. It’s portrayal of a new developing society that seemed to have started from scratch – as though access to it’s history has been lost and all they have to go on is stories handed down over generations – is fascinating; from their language to the tribe’s way of life. Essentially it’s about gender equality. The character Lara represents freedom – the alternative for women. She shows that woman can do what is traditionally considered for the men. There have been many YA novels that have been criticised for sending out the message that gender inequality is acceptable – books written by women. I have come across it, embedded in the subtext of some, myself. This book is the antidote to those novels – and it’s been written by a man! It suggests to me that David Estes clearly knows who his readers/fans are, and I get the impression he regards them highly and respects them.
And there’s more…
The writing is exceptionally good. It has the right balance of humour and poignancy throughout. Siena is probably the most likable protagonist in a novel I have come across. The Heaters’ language has its own words and phrases, which really works. You don’t need a glossary because it’s easy to work it out from the context. I think I’ll be using “Sear it to burnin’ scorch!” from now on – love it!
Warning: If you are sniffy about romance you might want to skip this paragraph. If you like a good romance, read on. I must admit that one of the problems I had with the Dwellers series was that I found the romance unconvincing. It felt scripted and I didn’t buy it. In contrast, the romance in this novel is completely believable. Those moments shared by Siena and Circ will melt even the hardest of hearts.
Fire Country ticks all three boxes and for this reason I would say it shifts up a gear from Estes’ previous Dwellers series. I would also say that, now that I have read 4 of his books, David Estes is an author whose writing has continued to improve and flourish over time and in that regard he reminds me of Maggie Stiefvater. The early stuff was good but this is even better. As a reader and fellow indie author, it has been a real joy to experience.
Is Fire Country a hidden treasure? Yes, it’s a gem, and not any gem. It’s pure crystalized carbon. If you like this genre my advice is go get yourself a copy of this book, now.