Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

Calamity becomes my ever-growing stack of books.

See, I have this best friend named Pete. Being the prolific reader that he  is, Pete’s always shoving SF/F books in my face. “You gotta read this one…and this one.” On the rare occasions that I’ve been able to peruse the shelves of a book store with him, he runs around the science fiction and fantasy section like a kid who’s forgotten his Ritalin. “This one looks awesome! This author was in my Viable Paradise class. Here, you’ll love this one.”

So now, I have this ginormous stash of dead trees and yet, I keep going out and buying new books. This bad habit is only propagated by the simple fact that when Pete hands me a novel, it’s usually the first in a series.

“Here. Read this Jim Butcher novel. It’s about wizard detective. You’ll love it.” What is Butcher on now? Writing book 12? (Pauses to look it up) Yep. Book 12 – Changes is due out in April. Damn you! Do you see how this impedes the ever-growing stack of literary material? Not to mention, I loved The Dresden Files so much, I went out and bought his fantasy series, Codex Alera.

Pete turned me on to John Scalzi, Taylor Anderson, Patrick “Patience Waning for Book 2” Rothfuss, George R. R. “Get the Torch and Pitchforks” Martin, John “Oh John Ringo, No” Ringo and yes, S.M. Stirling. Just to name a few.

So, to get to the meat and potatoes of this post, I loved Dies the Fire, and now I will need to go out and purchase more S.M. Stirling books. Ahhh! My other books which have been waiting their turn in line are revolting as I type.  Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman just whispered in a titillating English accent the many ways of my impending death. (I may have to taunt this book a little more.) Honor Harrington, completely out of character, is laughing maniacally in the background while the rest of the vampires, Gods and Goddesses, and war heroes sharpen their weapons of retribution. Wait until The God Engines shows up on my door, or Mary Robinette Kowal’s, Scenting the Dark is delivered.  I may have to resort to napalm.

See, how far behind I am? Dies the Fire, was published in August, 2004. This series of books is about the aftermath of a catastrophic event characters in the novel call The Change. This series takes place in the same universe as Stirling’s Nantucket Series. It follows what happens the exact moment Nantucket is thrust into the past and the consequences that the event has on the natural world and everything that was left behind in the time shift.

Combustion no longer packs the punch it did, making everything that depended on catalyst fuel conversion almost worthless. Guns don’t work, neither do cars, nor steam engines. Fires burn enough to boil water and offer some warmth and light, but not to the extent they once did.

The book works on many levels for me in regards to story, characters and the sheer amount of detail. You can tell Stirling did his research in every arena this book explores. It’s truly heartbreaking as humanity loses itself, as only the few strong survive. Stirling’s portrayal of both adaptation and the lack thereof as familiarity and structure break down is both believable and terrifying. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to see what some people will resort to in order to survive. Cannibals, rapists, militias gone wild, it’s all there and all very stomach-churning.

Yet, as the world comes crashing down, there are a few who ultimately rise from the ashes and become leaders. We follow Mike Havel, an ex-military outdoors man who begrudgingly finds himself the leader of survivors. It’s very intriguing to see how he and his group evolves post-change. Some people are made of the stuff of heroes and Mike is one of them.The other real main character is the Lady Juniper. A Wiccan before the change, she finds her title of High Priestess to her coven elevated even higher as people flock to her guidance and wisdom.

As with any good book, the conflict is not only the cataclysmic event in this book which alters everything, but people who as with anything, use the chaos and conflict for exploitation. There is always some jackhole who doesn’t care who he hurts, as long as he keeps the money rolling in, is allowed to piss all over people and has a few sex slaves to bang. Being well versed in ancient history doesn’t hurt either. Instead of a gun in his new world order, The Protector, a title which is demanded from his followers, arms his goons with armor and swords. A force to be reckoned with, it’s interesting to see how Mike Havel and Juniper address this threat to an already shaky survival.

The first installment in the trio of books is a hefty read, coming in at just under 600 pages. As I mentioned before, Stirling’s attention to detail is incredible.  In some cases and places it reads like a post-apocalyptic survival manual. One that I will definitely be placing in my survival kit buried out in my back…er, um, I mean… There are also incredible moments dedicated to the Wiccan way of life as well.  All the information and explanations makes every decision made by our protagonists believable. From what my friend Pete has given away in the future novels, we come to understand that the change did not only alter what could be seen and you will suddenly realize why the extensive delineations were necessary.

Highly recommended if you haven’t come across this gem.  I can’t wait to crack into The Protector’s War, which I’ve just purchased from my local Barnes and Noble.

Dammit.

For fans of S.M. Stirling — Pete interviewed him about his body of works back in May of 2008. You can find it here in two parts.

One thought on “Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

  1. Brian says:

    Mystery solved! I’d been neglecting my kindle for months, and then got the kindle app on my new phone and saw this book on there and couldn’t for the life of me remember why I’d bought a book by an author I’d never hear of. Looks like you’re patient zero. I think you posted this review around the time I sheepishly emailed you about my fanboy crush on SuperKate the Amazing Narrator. 🙂

    I just finished this last night. I think I started it three times and couldn’t get past Mike at the Boise airport, but then it turned into a total page-turner the rest of the way.

    Then my kindle took me to some link about the book where I see it’s part of a whole series? Have you dug into The Protector’s War? Beating up on the big guy was the obvious unfinished business in this book… but I couldn’t help but think that the whole premise for the book is pretty much used up now, no? The characters have made 90% of the journey from suburbanites to any-character-in-a-book-with-orcs. That seemed the interesting bit, and I don’t know where you go from there without it just turning into leftovers.

    Anywho, still a big fan… eagerly awaiting my next Kate fix. Position of moon in sky tells me I should be getting it tomorrow. 🙂

    Take care,
    Brian

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