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

Posted November 24, 2014 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 2 Comments

Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. StirlingDies the Fire by S.M. Stirling
Genres: Alternative History, Dystopian, Science Fiction
Published by Roc on September 6 , 2005
Pages: 573
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library


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.

Also by this author: The Protector's War, A Meeting at Corvallis, The Scourge of God, The High King of Montival

First in the Emberverse dystopian series and revolving around two primary sets of good guys and one horror of a man. These events occur throughout the Northwest in 1998. Phew, dodged that bullet…

My Take
It begins with one group’s story and then segues into other individual stories as that EMP pulse hits the world and takes out every electronic device and modern weapon known to man. Humanity is reduced to whatever can be worked by hand: bows and arrows, swords, knives, hammers, handsaws, and the like while transport is via bike, horse, or afoot.

Dies the Fire shows all the types of mankind from raging idiocy to rampaging power-seeking to caring for others. Slowly, slowly, the stories begin to merge as these disparate groups encounter one another, having passed through a great many wide-ranging “adventures”.

It’s the politics, the survival, the making-do, living from the land that intrigues me. And it creates drama, tension, and an increased heart rate!

I gotta say, it makes me want to get a place out of the way with some nice farmland. Someplace hidden that can be fortified, near a stream to generate power and access to water, and lots of weapons with plenty of how-to books since, horrors, I’d be without the Internet!! Eeek! Bring in a nice range of animals from chickens on up to horses.

It’s a lesson in survival for all parties with each going about it in a different way. Some learn maturity along the way. Some have useful skills to share right away. Luckily for Juniper, she’s been a Ren Faire participant for years and is better than halfway prepared to cope with the loss of tech.

“Everything that’s been invented in the last 800 years is useless now.”

Chuck makes an excellent argument for getting out of town now. He reckons only rats will be left to eat in a month. Juniper lays it out at Finney’s farm. The truth about the land under cultivation around Corvallis and how many people there are that need to be fed. There’s a lot of reasoning going on in Dies the Fire, which only makes it more fascinating to read. The products, food, and services, the methods of production we all take for granted.

Will Hutton has an interesting idea about this Pulse that hit the world. He reckons if it had happened before we got so much technology, no one would’a much noticed, but could explain the lack of advancement in some areas.

The Larssons initially come off as dilettantes, but they toughen up quick and prove their intellectual worth. It’s surprising what you can find when you look beneath the surface of people. I like too that Mike is a take-charge kind of guy without being power-mad. He’ll acknowledge his weaknesses and work on ’em.

Ken reckons they’ve “fallen out of history…”

It’s a time when words mean less than nothing, and protection is everything. The Mckenzies turn out to help neighbors. Any of their neighbors. It’s why the surviving Smith, Carsons, Georges, Mercers, and Brogies abandoned the Sutterdown group and switched to Mckenzie.

You can’t help but appreciate Juniper’s pragmatism: “We’re Witches, Chuck. We are weird.” Then she notes the “bizarre irony of someone wanting to become a Witch so they can fit in“, lol.

Astrid has created the The Chronicles of Lord Bear and His Folk: The Red Book of Larsdalen in imitation of her favorite Lord of the Rings trilogy. It’s a good therapy for her, working out the attack at the cabin.

They’re interesting groups of people — the good ones, anyway — that you can’t help but rush on, wanting to see them do well.

And she will name him Artos in the Craft.

The Story
It’s a routine day, and Michael is booked to fly a family to their home in Bitterroot Valley. In Corvallis, Juniper is playing for a happy crowd.

Then it all comes tumbling down. Planes fall out of the sky, cars simply stop, guns don’t fire, dynamite doesn’t explode, electricity is gone, water pumps have stopped, and fires and gangs are out of control.

And a provisional government is sending out gangs to requisition people’s cattle and foodstocks. Problem is, that government keeps changing hands and isn’t planning for the future.

The Characters
The Idaho contingent will become the Bearkiller outfit
Michael Havel is a pilot, a hunter, and an ex-Marine. He may be the hired help, but he quickly puts Eric in his place. He’ll be christened Lord Bear. Louhi is the pup he intends to train.

Steelhead Air Taxi is…
…a family-run service in Boise, Idaho, owned by Dan and Gerta Fogarty. Mellie Jones, their niece, is the company secretary. Eileen is the girl who dumped Michael.

The Larsson family — Kenneth and Mary, the twins Signe and Eric, and fourteen-year-old Astrid with her archery skills and a fascination for the Lord of the Rings — wants to visit their family ranch in Montana. Biltis is Astrid’s orange kitty. Mr. Zeppelt has been protecting the old Larsson place west of the Williamette.

A Run-in with the Zionist Occupation Government (ZOG),
…a neo-Nazi group. Jimmie is the leader; Bob and Dan are his disgusting partners. Anjelica and Will Hutton, with their daughter Luanne, were transporting horses from their ranch in Texas where they wrangle and train. Gustav becomes Lord Bear’s horse.

Pam Arnstein is a veterinarian at the San Diego Zoo. An outdoorswoman, she does Renaissance fencing with HACA and will become their swordmistress and historian. Josh Sanders is a lumberjack who’s done some construction, a hunter, a fisherman, a former Seabee (combat engineers) who wants to sign on with his wife, Annie, and daughter, Megan. Makes a darn good scout too. Annie will become their schoolteacher. Then there’s Billy Waters with his love for drink and abusing his beaten-down wife, Jane, and their three children which includes Reuben and Nancy. He claims to have worked for Red Wolf Bows. Gloria Stevens and Fred Naysmith are members as well.

Howard Reines is the mayor and Eddie Running Horse is with the reservation council. Aaron Rothman is a general practitioner the Bearkillers rescue in their first paid-for op. Bob Twofeather has good things say about the Bearkillers.

The Iron Rod is…
…an example of one of the Protector’s vassals. Duke Iron Rod, the former Dave Mondarian, leads the Devil Dogs, his old gang from Seattle before the Change. Martha is his old lady from before the Change; she keeps the new bitches in line. Moose and Hitter are loyal. Feitman is the numbers man and good with his knives.

Robert? Hank? Woburn is the new county sheriff. Burt, Louie, and Henry are part of the posse from town. Kate Clarke is missing. Mother Superior Gertrude took refuge with the sheriff. Jeb Smith has his own plans in mind. Pete Sacket and his son, Randy, run a garage-cum-machine shop on the edge of Craigswood.

The Corvallis contingent
Juniper Mckenzie is a guitar-playing singer and a witch, the High Priestess, in her coven. Soon to be Lady Juniper, High Chief of the Clan Mckenzie. Elir is her deaf daughter. Rudy Starn, her boyfriend-cum-high-priest, is a systems analyst flying out of Eugene that night. Cuchalain is her Alastian. Rudi is what she’ll initially name her baby. Dennie Martin is the host at the Hopping Toad Tavern in Corvallis that night with an interest in woodworking and tooling leather; he’s also one of her best friends. Manuel is a cook there. John Martin is Dennis’ brother, a blacksmith.

Frank and Joan Fairfax have a hobby farm just down the way from Juniper’s farm, one she inherited from an uncle. Both the Fairfaxes need insulin, and they love their kids: Joseph, John, Dave, June, Kathleen, and all the kids.

Sally Quinn made a bad choice as part of a small gang that confronts Juniper and her friends. Sure, her son, Terry, was hungry, but it was still wrong. Her husband, Peter, was at work at HP when the world fell apart.

Juniper’s coven, the Coven of the Singing Moon is coming out of Eugene
Judy Barstow is Evenstar, the Maiden of the coven; Chuck is her husband, not a pacifist, and a knight in the SCA. He will become the Dragonstar, the High Priest of the Craft. His day job is as a gardener for the Eugene Parks and Rec department. Their daughters are Mary (one of the children from the bus) and Tamsin, their three-year-old daughter. Andy Trethar is a friend. He and his wife, Diana, own an organic restaurant/bakery/food store, MoonDance. Diana is also a registered nurse and midwife. Greg is their son. Dorothy Rose who’ll be playin’ the bagpipes. Dave, Susan, and Karl are more members.

Once they join up at Juniper’s farm, they start adding more: Uncle Jason, Alex is Chuck’s younger brother. Barbara, Vince Torelli, and Steve Matucheck saved him from Eaters. Samuel “Samkin” Aylward, late sergeant in the SAS, fell into a ravine when he chased after a deer with his bow. He’s a bowyer too. Cagney and Lacey are a couple of the plow horses.

A busload of kids are stranded and include Sanjay, Mary, and Daniel. Juney and a small crew find the rest of their coven with a little help from a scouting party of Bearkillers — Carmen, Muriel, and Jack — when they come up against Eaters.

John Carson and his kids Cynthia and Ray are farming neighbors. He knows his livestock. The Smiths were neighbors, until bandits hit. Now young Mark Smith has joined the Mckenzie Clan. The Hunters, Dowlingtons, and Johnsons have already joined, and now Rodger and Maisie MacFarlane want to join. But they’ll have to throw their land into the communal pool.

Reverend Dixon of Sutterdown is a not-too-welcome neighbor; he preaches against witches. Reverend Jennings is not the same. Sheriff Laughton and Dr. Gianelli are co-leaders with the reverend. Tamar is one of the children and the sheriff’s niece.

Luther Finney farms a patch south of Corvallis; Sarah is his wife. He has an Alastian. Eddie and Susan are their son and daughter who live in Salem.

Lieutenant Peter Jones is with the Committee militia along with what used to be the Corvallis agriculture and engineering faculties.

…stands for the Central Oregon Ranchers’ Association. John Brown will be the CORA delegate to the Bearkillers. Ellie Strang is a local girl with an in at the Protector’s new castle. Dinkerman and Sergeant Harvey are some of the men at the castle.

Portland, Oregon
Emiliano is jefe of the Lords; Dolores is his woman. Marquez is his numbers man. The mayor and the chief of police are known as Cat and the Moose on the street, and they’ve invited Emiliano to a meeting with the Crips, Bloods, the Russians with Alexi Stavarov, The Tongs, the Koreans, the Angels, the Italians, and more.

They’ve already set up a government: The Lord Protector and The Lady Sandra, a.k.a., Norman Arminger in chain mail carrying a sword, a former academic; he’s a history professor who’s gone power mad. He’s gung-ho for old-fashioned, full-blown feudalism with his boilerplate contracts.

Eddie Liu and Mack are aiming for Portland; they hear there’s stability there.

Eaters are cannibals.

The Cover
The cover is grim in a warm way. I know, it sounds contradictory… The colors are warm: a creamy sky and golden browns form the sky above a ragged skyline of browns. The foreground is more golden browns of flat land with a gray road emerging from the distance. It’s a horse drawn pickup truck approaching a tire and a bicycle abandoned on the road while Mike stands, with sword slung over one shoulder, assessing the threat level around him.

I suspect the title is a metaphor for that fateful night when the “storm” struck and so Dies the Fire of the world.

Please follow and like us:
Pin Share

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


2 responses to “Book Review: Dies the Fire by S.M. Stirling

  1. I hate anything to do with politics in real life, but for some weird reason I LOVE it in books, and that aspect of this story sounds like it was super well done. I like that the POV shifts from the group to individuals too. Great review, Kathy!

    Carmel @ Rabid Reads.

    • ladystorm

      Thanks, Carmel. It was fascinating. I suspect part of what I loved about the politics was Jupe’s version of it. Helping everyone. Paying attention to the three-fold rule. Then there’s Michael’s and his contingent’s more, um, forceful approach. It’s that whole being-fair-to-others concept that I love. I also suspect it’s the same reason I love Tom Clancy’s Executive Orders and the movie Dave. Cleaning out the government. Getting rid of stupid laws and stupider politicians. Bringing “government” back TO the people.

Leave a Reply