Piper Bayard has been a long-time blogging buddy of mine. She’s kind enough to comment on many of my posts and even kinder to like even more. Piper recently published her novel Firelands, and she sent me a copy that I began reading right away. My schedule this entire month has been unfriendly to literacy, but I was always glad to have a few minutes to read a few more chapters of an intriguing post-apocalyptic future. What’s more, Piper is keenly aware that religion is behind much of politics—a point she boldly makes by constructing a dictatorship based around a miracle-claiming prophet-king who oppresses those who don’t believe—the Seculars, or “Secs.” Interestingly, Piper decided on the name Josephites for the religious rulers, and there are dark undertones here for those who know their religious history. As an unabashed fan of allegorical writing, I saw quite a lot here that was, well, apocalyptic, in the literal sense of the word.
In a misogynic future, the Josephites, who dwell in cities, burn many women for various heretical crimes in autos-da-fé entitled Atonements. These human sacrifices ensure fertility and also help to explain the trials of life in a post-cataclysmic world. The protagonist, Archer, has to not only survive, but to try to save her cousin, a grandchild of the eponymous Joseph, from the flames. The Josephites live in a society of thinly rooted but strongly mandated religion. There is an underground of true Christians, and Archer, although a Sec, acts with more compassion than any of the Josephites, except perhaps her cousin. In a world that has lost its bearings, religion both undergirds and undermines a dystopian society where differences of faith have come to define everyone’s role in a harsh world. (Those who have ears to hear, let them hear.)
In this world where heaven is a fiery hell, I realized that Archer was more familiar than she first seemed. A female warrior, she opens the book by tracking a large stag to feed her starving people. Nevertheless, it took me many chapters to realize that she was a hypostatic Artemis, the goddess of the hunt. No wonder she couldn’t convert to the standard religion! Her example leads the way toward a renewable and sustainable future, in touch with nature, while the “religious” in their urban environment are dying on the vine as they appear to thrive. This is a world where old gods are more authentic than an enforced religion that few believe and that only rules through fear. There is much more I could say about Piper’s fascinating book, but I want you to read it for yourself. Visit Piper’s website for more information, and support the work of an author who really has something to say!