Completed 8/18/2015, Reviewed 8/18/2015
The geek shall inherit the earth. According to the author, SCA, Tolkien, and Renaissance Festival aficionados, as well as Wiccans, stand the best chance. So will a few farmers, survivalists, motorcycle gang members, and history and engineering professors when all technology is wiped out in a bizarre cataclysmic event. Those who don’t perish quickly from lack of food and water and exposure to the elements return to a Middle Ages existence, coming together in small groups, or attempting to create maniacal oppressive kingdoms. Stirling creates a very realistic post-apocalyptic scenario with great detail. For me, the detail derailed my interest in the story, keeping me from developing a strong relationship with the plight of the main characters.
Don’t get me wrong, I think the detail adds an authenticity to the premise of the book. The main characters who come together at the beginning of the catastrophe all bring different talents to the pool. Because there are so many SCA and renfest folks, there are a lot of good horse riders, archers, and swordfolk. Not only is electrical technology kaput, but even gunpowder doesn’t burn explosively anymore. So these Middle Ages weapon wielders teach the others in their new clans how to build these weapons and use them to hunt and defend themselves. They plant and harvest food, hunt game, and build new homes away from the cities. All this activity convinces you that people could survive this kind of catastrophe.
But for me, it took too much away from the more exciting parts of the plot, attacks by bears, psychos, cannibals, motorcycle gangs, and the “Protector”. It also watered down the character development. I found myself wandering during these geeky parts and losing track of the plot, and particularly, new people. And as this book is about survivors coming together and across one another, there are a lot of minor characters. At one point about halfway through the book, I realized I had forgotten who several of the characters were, just having to rely on knowing that they are with the “good guys”. By the end, I felt pretty bored and was skipping pages, just trying to finish.
On the other hand, I have to say that the main characters are very interesting. The leader of one group, the Mackenzies, is Juniper, a Wiccan singer-songwriter. She is completely likeable, strong, and intelligent. It is very refreshing to have such a non-traditional character making a positive impact in the story. Mike, the leader of the Bearkillers is male, but he has the Tolkien fan in his group. She’s a teenager who would rather be an elf, and she teaches the members of this clan how to use a bow and arrow. But it’s Juniper and Mike’s journeys that drive the story. I liked them, I just thought I would have liked them more if the book kept me more engaged.
One thing that I really liked about the book’s concept was that this global catastrophe takes place in 1998 even though the book was published in 2004. I believe it’s because the source of the event takes place in 1998 when the first book of Stirling’s Nantucket series was published. So the events take place “now”, sort of. So it’s not like “2001: A Space Odyssey”, which made me despair a little when the year came and went with no alien contact. But with “Dies the Fire”, I don’t secretly get my hopes up that this will happen in say 2020 and I finally get to use my Boy Scout archery skills. I don’t know if that makes sense, but I thought the time scheme just seemed creative and novel, a little like alternative history.
I think a lot of people will like this book better than I did, especially my Renfest and cosplay friends and relatives. I give the book three out of five stars, but I completely understand people who would rate the book higher, and encourage my Renfest friends to read this book. I actually toyed with giving it two stars, but gave it the benefit of the doubt because of its high geek potential. I probably won’t read the eleven sequels or the origin “Nantucket” series, but I’d be glad to hear recaps from folks who do read them.