Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill
Also by this author: Welcome to Lovecraft
Published by William Morrow on May 17th 2016
Genres: Science Fiction, Thrillers
Source: Edelweiss, Publisher
From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.
Fun fact, Hill mentioned in the foreward/introduction that the title of his book came from Bradbury’s original title of Fahrenheit 451.
The Fireman felt very different from Hill’s other books. There is not the magical call of Christmasland, though there was a nod to it in the book as well as a slew of references to other genre books, particularly Harry Potter. There was not a ghost haunting a rock star or magical keys that unlock abilities, or horns that appear overnight. This book felt less fantastical and more thriller, but you’ll find absolutely no complaints here because it is an extremely thrilling read that I found almost impossible to put down.
The premise is that there is a new, incredibly dangerous plague called Draco Incendia Trychophyton (aka Dragonscale). Dragonscale is quite frightening because it can cause its victims to burst into flames, incinerating anything and anyone near by. Dragonscale is absolutely fascinating. I have to admit, it sounded like it would take a stronger suspension of disbelief until I read the book. Hill presents the Dragonscale in such a way that if feels clinically/scientifically possible. There are many traits he assigns to it, and when broken down makes it sound more plausible. Granted it is still fiction, but I thought the presentation of it was done incredibly well.
One of the things I loved most about this book is that it was about more than just an epidemic of some incendiary virus. It was about how hate and fear can be used in such a way to really fuel the fire (really, no pun intended) as well as how love and hope can overcome. The atmosphere surrounding those with the virus is border lining on hysteria. Yes, the thought of sitting next to someone who may at any time burst in to flames, potentially taking you and everyone else in the building with them is terrifying. But at some point, it seems that the healthy have removed any sense of humanity from the sick.
They no longer see the sick as people, humans who deserve some level of compassion or help, but they see them as evil intruders who are likely to destroy the world. Honestly, I don’t often bring politics into my reviews, but the correlations between this and modern day politics is absolutely hard to miss. I feel like I would be doing the book a disservice if I didn bring it up. I absolutely could not help but see how some of the behaviors motivated by hate and fear in this book paralled those of some political campaigns. Hate and fear have been used as a rallying cry by many politicians in the past, using voters’ fears and fanning their hate to make them afraid to vote for anyone else.
Now if politics is not your thing, and any ties to our real world don’t interest you, well, don’t worry. This story is absolutely gripping whether you choose to delve into deeper meanings or not. This is a long book, but I could not put it down. It was a fascinating read that made me curse real life every time I had to set it aside.
As for characters, I loved our protagonist, Harper. She is a school nurse and all around selfless, good person. The type of person who volunteers her time to go and treat the Dragonscale patients at the hospital, even if it means there is some increased risk for her. She spends her time and energy just trying to help people be a bit a happier and a bit more comfortable. Anything she can do to help, you can be sure she will. It just so happens she is not dealt the best of hands lately. When things start to get bad, entered The Fireman, a character who feels to be a living legend. Harper’s life is irrecoverably changed, and alongside The Fireman, she puts up a fight to make that change be for good.
Overall, I absolutely recommend this one. I honestly don’t think I can come up with any negatives. Absolutely loved it. The Fireman is relentless in all the best ways.
Review originally posted on The Speculative Herald