Eighty years in the future, America has devolved into a totalitarian theocracy. The ruling Josephites clone the only seeds that grow in the post-apocalyptic climate, allowing their Prophet to control who eats and who starves.
Subsisting on the fringes, Archer risks violation and death each day as she scours the forest for game to feed her people. When a Josephite refugee seeks sanctuary in her home, Archer is driven to chance a desperate gamble. A gamble that will bring down the Prophet and deliver seeds and freedom, or end in a fiery death for herself and for everyone she loves.
Seeds are life. . . . Seeds are power. . . . Seeds are the only hope of a despairing people. What will Archer do for the seeds of freedom, and what will she justify in their name? – Online book description
In Firelands Piper Bayard has managed to create a dystopian society filled with contrasts. On the one hand we have the Josephites: refined, devout, and with access to powerful technology and ample food. On the other, the Secs: eking out an existence with the meagre food provided to them by the Josephites, stealing what technology they can and not giving God much thought. At the same time the Secs live a life filled with joy and a sense of community even in the midst of their hardship while the Josephites live a life of perpetual fear of the Atonement, their very life signs constantly monitored by robotic policemen.
Piper paints a convincing picture of a world where an apple is something unimaginable and where crushing a flower can get you killed. The settings are rich and diverse, varying from peaceful meadows to barren wastes to the domed city of the Josephites. Fantastic technology like energy weapons and genetically modified plants that grow fuel exist alongside machine guns and internal combustion engines.
Archer is a brilliant character. She is a strong, independant woman who risks her life on a daily basis for her people and can outshoot and outhunt any man. At the same time she is just a girl who’s hoping for love and who likes to look pretty for important occasions. She is brave and caring, but also impatient and stubborn. She is complemented well by her co-star, Quinn and the tension between them is obvious from page one.
The other characters, aside from either supporting or thwarting Archer, also serve to remind us that things are not just black and white. We find that there are several good guys in the Josephite camp while some Secs would gladly betray their own in exchange for extra food.
While a couple of scenes are a bit slow and could probably have been cut, the overall pacing is good and the pages pretty much turn themselves. There are a few minor errors (specifically the repeated use of the word “drug” where I expected “dragged” had me reaching for a dictionary at one point, and once in a while Archer would say something that does not quite fit with her style of speech in the rest of the novel) but nothing too serious.
All in all, Firelands was a great read. It has action, suspense, romance and intrigue. I would have liked to know a little more of the history of this world, and I think the theme of religion in the abuse of power could have been explored more deeply, but the absence of these aspect don’t really detract from the book as a whole. Piper manages to make us care about the characters and the world and I appreciated the little, seemingly insignificant details she wove into the story that would crop up from time to time to bind the different parts of the novel together.
If you enjoy dystopian post-apocalyptic fiction give Firelands a look. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.
Also be sure to visit Piper’s blog which she co-writes with Jay Holmes, a real-life spy (sorry, I meant spook. Apparently there’s a difference.)