On March 17, 1998 there was a brilliant flash of light, and afterwards explosives (including gunpowder), internal combustion, and electricity no longer work. Dies the Fire follows two small bands trying to stay alive during the first months immediately after The Change. Clan MacKenzie, led by Ren Fair singer and Wiccan High Priestess Juniper MacKenzie, quickly bolts to her cabin in the foothills and settles into a communal kibbutz-like agrarian lifestyle in the Willamette Valley. Clan Bear, led by ex-marine pilot Mike Havel with his deputies an African American horse trainer and a female live-steel sword fighting veterinarian, develop into a wandering militia as they wend their way from Idaho back to the Willamette.
Other reviewers appear to love Dies the Fire or hate it (Reviews are either 1 star or 4 stars). I do agree that in many way’s Dies the Fire is an SCA (Society for Creative Anachronism) and Renaissance Fair fan’s wet dream – folks who play Middle Ages have an advantage on the fighting and crafting skills to survive. Similarly, the villain, the so-called Protector of Portland, is a lawful evil stereotype with medieval history background who tries to start a Feudal setup with him as kingpin and the local gangs as levies.
The writing is a bit more polished than that of S.M. Stirling’s earlier Nantucket Trilogy, but still descends into detailed inventory and infodump from time to time. On this re-read, I’m also painfully aware of some of the odd tokenization of certain characters – Will Dutton, Mike Havel’s African American 2nd and his Mexican wife are the primary non-Caucasians except for the Nez Perce. Is that because there just aren’t many people of color in that part of the world, or it is because Stirling is consciously trying to be diverse? He’s not quite succeeding at avoiding the magical Negro stereotype. Juniper’s daughter, Eilir is congenitally deaf due to measles but preternaturally good at reading lips and unusually Juniper’s inner circle appear to all be fluent in sign and a potential best friend picks up signing effortlessly. Is that because Stirling is indulging in building the world he wishes, or because he feels the need to include someone with disabilities and then doesn’t quite make it realistic? And despite these criticisms, of all the post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction I've read, Dies the Fire is the one that haunts me and that I dream about.
The Emberverse, as this series is now known, is up to 13 volumes with the 14th, which follows the grandchildren of the original characters, expected out later in 2017. I read the first few books when they were originally released, but lost interest. I got back into the series because the audiobook is available on Hoopla from my library. Taking the time that an audiobook enforces, I’m more aware of the number of times that certain descriptions and concepts are repeated than I was the first time I read Dies the Fire. I was talking to my husband about this and we came to the conclusion that S.M. Stirling, much like L.E. Modesitt, comes up with interesting premises and is a reasonable wordsmith but they both have favorite set pieces and conceits that they reach for just a bit too often – they can become their own cliché.
I wasn’t impressed with the Tantor Audiobook. While Todd McLaren had a reasonably pleasant voice, the frequent mispronunciations were annoying and point to a lack of research and sloppy preparation. (He mispronounces Chuchulian, Samhain, Lunasadh, Athame, céilidh, and ballista, among other things).
Audiobook started during #24in48. Prorated portion of 431 of 1319* minutes or 187 of the 573 page paperback used as my last Free Friday selection for Booklikes-opoly. I finished it up while listening in the car on the way to camp to pick up my son and while sitting with Ozzie last night.
*I’d been calculating based on 1380 minutes since the downloaded file said 23 hours, but the book actually finished in 21 hours and 59 minutes