Roc, 2004, 496 pages
Michael Havel was flying over Idaho en route to the holiday home of his passengers when the plane's engines inexplicably died, forcing a less than perfect landing in the wilderness. And, as Michael leads his charges to safety, he begins to realize that the engine failure was not an isolated incident.
Juniper Mackenzie was singing and playing guitar in a pub when her small Oregon town was thrust into darkness. Cars refused to start. Phones were silent. And when an airliner crashed, no sirens sounded and no fire trucks arrived. Now, taking refuge in her family's cabin with her daughter and a growing circle of friends, Juniper is determined to create a farming community to benefit the survivors of this crisis.
But even as people band together to help one another, others are building armies for conquest.
Dies the Fire goes through the usual paces in an end-of-the-world novel: civilization collapses, there is much confusion and rioting, a few lucky/prepared ones are situated such that they don't starve while all the city-dwellers run out of food, there's a massive die-off, and then the most organized, ambitious, and/or ruthless are setting up fiefdoms.
The gimmick here is that "the Change" that causes the end of civilization literally changes the laws of physics. Gunpowder, internal combustion, and electricity simply stops working. The world is literally knocked back into the middle ages technologically. This device is an excuse to write an SCAer's fantasy: those folks in the Society for Creative Anachronism who spent time dressing up in plate armor and whacking each other with rattan swords are suddenly among the only ones with actual useful combat skills, now that guns no longer work. Sterling takes that ball and runs with it: the chief villain, who takes over Portland, Oregon, "the Protector," is a former history professor and an SCA member who uses his combat skills and knowledge of medieval history to immediately begin recreating his favorite period of history with himself in charge.
Michael Havel, military veteran and former pilot, becomes a warlord of sorts, quickly leveling up as the mercenary commander of the "Bear-Killers," with assistance from a teenage girl Tolkien-nerd who conveniently enough also practiced archery as a hobby.
As a gimmick, it's interesting and fun to see the survivors literally rediscovering medieval tactics out of necessity. "The Change" is never explained, though the characters speculate that aliens did it. It does become a bit much when witches (the wiccan kind, not the actual magic-using kind) form the basis for a large survival community, apparently because they're better able to organize and survive in a pre-industrial world. Juniper, the leader of the coven, who becomes High Priestess and "Lady Juniper," is constantly spouting "Blessed Be" and "Lord and Lady!" and oh my god there is an actual Book of Shadows, yes I know some pagan branches really practice that shite but it was hard to take seriously; all the pagans I've ever known would die if you took their Internet forums and organic lattes away.
Dies the Fire is not much of an actual survivalist story; there is discussion of how the survivors have to reimplement medieval technology and spend a lot of time getting agriculture going again the hard way, but most of the action is the battles against various bandit gangs and warlords.
Not a bad read, and I may continue the series just to see if the author ever explains whether it was aliens that did it.
My complete list of book reviews.