Dies the Fire

October 3, 2013 Book Reviews 2 ★★★★½

Dies the Fire four-half-stars
on 08/03/2004
Pages: 573
Format: Paperback

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The Change occurred when an electrical storm centered over the island of Nantucket produced a blinding white flash that rendered all electronic devices and fuels inoperable. What follows is the most terrible global catastrophe in the history of the human race-and a Dark Age more universal and complete than could possibly be imagined.

Review by Travis Starnes

This is book truly surprised me. I have read a lot of S.M. Stirling’s’ work, and while he is a solid writer this book has pushed past what I thought he was normally capable of.

The book revolves around an interesting question; What if technology and gunpowder stopped working?  Well of course the obvious answer is all hell would break loose.  Dies the Fire sets up the world that will continue through several titles and introduces us to the 2 groups the series will be following, the Bearkillers and Clan Mackenzie.

It is the story that is the real high point of this book. I will say that some of the rules about what happens seem a bit weird and unconnected.  I have read the book several times now and still do not understand how electronics and gunpowder would both be diminished by the same event.  While I have heard some explanations, since it is limited to just technology and gunpowder every explanation comes off as a bit arbitrary.  However once you get past that the rest of the world evolves in a very believable way. The way groups form, who goes where, how areas of society break down all seem very well thought out. The story jumps back and forth between the Bearkillers and Clan Mackenzie, but it is the Bearkiller half of the story that really makes this book such a joy. Their all American style coupled with an efficient brutality makes you almost want to join them.  This might be the faction I have rooted for most in any sci-fi book.

As with most books of the genre the characters can be a bit clichéd at times. Stirling does manage to have them rise above that for the majority of the book however.  Most of the time when reading Dies the Fire the characters come off as well balanced and interesting. As I said when talking about the story, anything that has to do with following Havel and his group around is completely engaging, and in my house at least we have renamed the book “The Bearkillers”. The supporting Bearkillers are nearly as well written and interesting as Havel.  I can almost not say enough how much I enjoyed reading about this group.

On the flip side you have the characters following Mackenzie.  My praise for the Bearkillers should not lead you to believe the Mackenzie’s are completely uninteresting.  My only real complaint about them was that the constant Wicca refrain that hurt any section of the book it showed up in, or at least made it more annoying. It is clear the author has a fondness towards the religion but it began feeling very preachy in parts. Unfortunately Stirling’s passion has overshadowed what could have been an otherwise equally interesting group to read about.

Of course what is any book without a villain?  Arminger is a superb antagonist and comes off as incredible smart, ruthless, and only slightly flawed. Having read so many sci-fi titles with incompetent or completely outmatched bad guys, this depiction of a villain who is the equal of the heroes was a fresh change of pace.

Overall this is an excellent book and a great beginning of a series.  If you like low-tech sci-fi or post-apocalyptic fiction then this is a must read.

Rating Report
Overall: 4.6

2 Responses to “Dies the Fire”

  1. Chris Romans

    I’ve read quite a few books by S.M. Stirling. I was actually introduced to this one in a college class I took pertaining to the study of Post-Apocalyptic literature. Now, here I am looking at this, and going to reexamine my book collection to check it out again. From memory, I can agree with a lot of what this reviewer has to say about the book. I don’t think it was perfect, and I absolutely did find some of the Wiccan elements to be laughable. Still though, it was interesting none the less, considering this was one of the first post-apocalyptic books I read. It’s definitely more interesting than the cliche zombie genre, and again, while not perfect, certainly worth checking out.

  2. efpierce

    I have read Stirling’s Islands in the Sea of Time series which was released before this book and they made for some very good reading. I had all but forgotten the joy I received from reading his work until seeing your review here. Thank you for bringing back those memories.

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