I review The Map of Bones by Francesca Haig.
A big thank you to HarperVoyager for providing a review copy.
Book Two in the critically acclaimed The Fire Sermon trilogy—The Hunger Games meets Cormac McCarthy’s The Road in this richly imagined post-apocalyptic series by award-winning poet Francesca Haig.
Four hundred years in the future, the Earth has turned primitive following a nuclear fire that has laid waste to civilization and nature. Though the radiation fallout has ended, for some unknowable reason every person is born with a twin. Of each pair, one is an Alpha—physically perfect in every way; and the other an Omega—burdened with deformity, small or large. With the Council ruling an apartheid-like society, Omegas are branded and ostracized while the Alphas have gathered the world’s sparse resources for themselves. Though proclaiming their superiority, for all their effort, Alphas cannot escape one harsh fact: whenever one twin dies, so does the other.
Cass is a rare Omega, one burdened with psychic foresight. While her twin, Zach, gains power on the Alpha Council, she dares to dream the most dangerous dream of all: equality. For daring to envision a world in which Alphas and Omegas live side-by-side as equals, both the Council and the Resistance have her in their sights.
Although I nabbed a copy of The Fire Sermon at LonCon a couple of years ago, I only just got around to reading it this year (for shame!). Although, I suppose it was perfect timing, as, just when I turned the last page, I saw on Twitter that The Map of Bones was to be released the very next day. And I was excited.
I read a wide range of books, from science fiction to historical fiction to YA, but I’m particularly picky about fantasy. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, in all its weird and wonderful varieties, grimdark and high fantasy alike, but it seems like when fantasy goes wrong, it really goes wrong. Tropes galore! Gratuitous sexual violence! No people of colour! And so on and so forth. So when a fantasy author gets it right (and there are many of them), I rejoice. Haig gets it very, very right.
I suppose this series would be classed as dystopian fantasy, with touches of science fiction, and largely suitable for young adults. The writing is progressive, although the world is backwards – in a world where only perfect people, without mutations or disabilities, are cherished, and the others are at best cast aside, and at worst tortured and terrified, the narrator, Cass, is a breath of fresh air. The Alphas – and the ruling Council – believe that Omegas are aberrations, and should be kept locked away for the safety of Alphas. Omegas believe that Alphas are poison, and are unafraid to kill both twins when attacking an Alpha. Cass believes that both twins are worthy, that they should be two parts of one whole, rather than warring against each other. But ultimately, she wants to stop the twinning, so that neither Alpha nor Omega are at risk by being joined.
The Map of Bones goes deeper than The Fire Sermon. It’s rare to find a sequel in a trilogy that’s stronger than the first installment, but Haig manages to provide us with one. This sequel captured me immediately, picking up where The Fire Sermon left off, in the middle of the Omega resistance falling. But that was only the beginning.
We learn a lot more about the characters accompanying Cass on her journey. Haig seemed to really work on her characters, creating new depths and allowing us glimpses of what lies beneath certain facades. Zoe in particular is a fascinating woman, strong and powerful, but also vulnerable. And Cass is the pefect unreliable narrator, unsure of herself, just as so many of us are.
To keep this review spoiler-free, there’s not much else I can say, other than that this is a series to watch out for, and Haig a force within the literary world to be reckoned with.