Fire Country (Country Saga #1) by David Estesebook, 398 pages
Published January 29th 2013
In a changed world where the sky bleeds red, winter is hotter than hell and full of sandstorms, and summer's even hotter with raging fires that roam the desert-like country, the Heaters manage to survive, barely.
Due to toxic air, life expectancies are so low the only way the tribe can survive is by forcing women to procreate when they turn sixteen and every three years thereafter. It is their duty as Bearers.
Fifteen-year-old Siena is a Youngling, soon to be a Bearer, when she starts hearing rumors of another tribe of all women, called the Wild Ones. They are known to kidnap Youngling girls before the Call, the ceremony in which Bearers are given a husband with whom to bear children with.
As the desert sands run out on her life's hourglass, Siena must uncover the truth about the Wild Ones while untangling the web of lies and deceit her father has masterfully spun.
My ReviewFire Country is the first book of the Country series, which is the sister series to David’s Dwellers series. Now I have to admit that I have yet to finish David’s Dweller series and Evolution series, but I previously did a cover reveal for this book and it was the monthly read in an online book group I’m in, so I had to move this book up in my to-read list. As with Moon Dwellers, David did not disappoint me with this novel. Actually, I can say with all honestly that it’s the best book I've read by him so far. I have become a great fan of his.
The main difference between this book and other books that I have read so far by David is the dialect of this society. Not to go off a topic, but I have a friend who once told me that he couldn't read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone because of all the made-up language. I personally feel the made-up terms helped make the world of Harry Potter what it is, but I can understand how daunting it can be to read something with words that you can’t find in a dictionary (or that can be but have a totally different meaning). Even though most of the time the new terms are defined or at the very least explained, you have to get your mind used to them and their usage. Once you get into Harry Potter, for example, words like muggle become second nature to you and you learn to love the new terms. That’s what happened when I first started reading the dialect of Fire Country. Getting used to their dialect wasn't all that difficult for me and I actually really liked it (not like Blood Red Road, where I found the language cool at first and then quickly got annoyed with it or Bumped where I hated it off the bat). It kind of reminds me of the dialect of the southern states and considering that this region is plagued by extreme heat and desert, makes me wonder if Fire Country is located within that region. And trading words like “burnin’”, “searin’”, and “blaze” for common swear words is a good way to sneak such words into a teen book.
David gave a lot of character development in Siena. She goes from a skinny, weak, “youngling” to a still skinny, but strong warrior. Even though the time and circumstances are different from what we know today, a lot of what she goes through mentally (growing pains, trouble fitting in, rebellion, grief) ring true for many teenagers today. In the beginning of the book, she’s so shy and unsure of herself because she’s small and scrawny and isn't popular, but as the novel goes on, she gains great strength. Despite her insecurities and small stature, however, you can see the rebellion in her from the beginning, just from her constant use of “words that’d draw my father’s hand across my face like lightening.” Every time she rebelled against her father, I mentally routed for her and then cringed when she was punished for it. As terrible as it was, it was a good thing because it made her that much stronger.
I love Circ. He was such a good friend to Siena. It was obvious that he would do anything for her. I don’t know about everyone else, but I could kind of see that he was interested in her as more than a friend from the beginning. I think it was something about the lengths he seemed to be willing to go for her and their interactions with each other that screamed more than just close friendship. Maybe as “todders” or “midders” these things would be strictly friendship, but not as “youngling” and “pre-bearer”.
Siena’s father is such a cruel and selfish man and is way too hard on Siena and her mother. Siena says that he wasn't always that way; that there was a time when he taught her things and played with her and was happy.
"This man is but a shadow of the father I once knew; the father who sat me on his knees and bumped them up and down while I squealed with laughter; the father who smiled bigger'n the desert when I came home from Learning holding the Smooth Stone, awarded to the best Midder student; the father who held my hand and confronted Midder Vena when she struck me in the arm. No, the man standing 'fore me ain't the man who did any of those things"
Somehow I have a very hard time picturing the man described here. The man portrayed in this book is power-hungry, egotistical, and self-centered. Some the secrets that he and the other Greynotes (the oldest members of Fire Country) have been harvesting did not seem all that big at first, but the more that is revealed, the meaner and selfish Siena father becomes.
Even though this is not the first novel I have read with a society that dictates when a young girl should marry and have children and/or allows men to have multiple wives or child bearers, I still am angry and appalled with every such novel I read. In Fire Country, the Law states that girls become "bearers" at age sixteen (which is middle age considering that, on average, the life expectancy for men is 30 and for women is 32) and they have a ceremony called "the Call" where a mate is selected from a list of eligible boys (18 years or older, which Siena finds unfair). Then they are to immediately conceive a child and continue to have one child every three years thereafter. A "full family" is one that consists of one man, three "Calls" and nine children. Men are allowed more than one Call, but women are to remain with their Call, unless they die in which case a new call is selected. The main purpose for this is to keep their people from dying out. Considering how short the life expectancy of the people due to their environment, it is reasonable to try to ensure that their population remains stable. However, women get the short end of this deal, which Siena's "learning-mate" Lara points out.
"They pick a guy, they pick a girl, stick you together, and nine full moons later out pops a kid. Sounds like breeding to me."
Breeding, a word that Siena feels implies that they're animals or hunks of meat. She's definitely not a piece of meat. But even if they are not meat, the women are still being used. They are not allowed any say into who their call is, even though they will be forced to be intimate and share a life with that person for the rest of their short life. They are forced to bear children at 16, whether they want to or are ready to or not. The amount of children and how often they have them is dictated. Men are allowed more than one "Call", but women are not even allowed male friends after their Call, which means Siena and Circ can no longer be friends. It's amazing how people who are so essential to their population have the least amount of rights.
I greatly recommend this novel to dystopian/apocalyptic fans. I look forward to the next installment to the series Ice Country next month.