A deadly plague with no antidote. It’s origin a mystery. Cities falling like dominoes. Is this the end of the world?
As a big fan of apocalyptic thrillers, I was really excited for Joe Hill’s The Fireman. As a fan of Joe Hill’s previous work, I was really disappointed with this offering.
Hill, whose real name is Joseph Hillstrom King, is the son of famed author Stephen King. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that he’s displayed a knack for writing horror stories that are stunningly creepy during his career as a novelist. The apple, as they say, didn’t fall far from the tree.
Hill has an abundance of talent, there’s no question about that. And while I didn’t love this book, I have to praise the author’s writing style and abilities–it’s what kept me going for seven hundred pages after I’d already lost interest in the plot.
The story is about a deadly plague called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, appropriately nicknamed “Dragonscale” because of its unique symptoms. Those who contract it find themselves covered in black and gold marks, before eventually bursting into flames and turning into ash. Sucks, right?
The main character here is a nurse named Harper Grayson, who is sweet and charismatic. I found Harper easy to like and rooted in all the character traits you hope your nurse will exhibit when you’re in the hospital yourself.
Harper cared for hundreds of patients infected with Dragonscale before her hospital went under. Married and pregnant, Harper is devastated when she realizes that she’s finally caught the plague that causes its victims to spontaneously combust after a short period of time.
The first gut-wrenching part of the story takes place when Jakob, Harper’s husband, abandons her after she reneged on a promise they’d made to one another when the outbreak first began. That promise had to do with them each agreeing to kill themselves should they become ill. Harper, though, wants to press on at least long enough to deliver her baby.
The Marry Poppins-like Harper was, as I said, easy to like before–and she’s instantly lovable at this moment in the book. Only a heartless person wouldn’t root for a pregnant woman fighting a horrible plague long enough to see the birth of her baby. It’s worth noting, too, that Harper had seen other infected women deliver healthy babies at the hospital she worked for, so there’s genuine reason to get behind her and support her.
Jakob later joins a Cremation Squad, groups of armed citizens hellbent on burning anyone suspected of carrying the Dragonscale disease to the ground.
This is a crucial point in the book, where the story presents itself as something completely unlike anything else currently in circulation. It’s subtle, and doesn’t happen right away, but the reader eventually sees the humans as the bad guys… and the sick, infected individuals as the good guys.
Hill writes this transition of perspective brilliantly, and I’ll admit that I was caught off-guard to suddenly find myself rooting for those infected with the deadly plague. It’s a huge change from the way we see apocalyptic events portrayed in books or on television today. Like, for example, in The Walking Dead where the vast majority of watchers are cheering on earth’s remaining survivors.
Harper, now on her own, connects with a mysterious man who wanders around New Hampshire in a fireman’s jacket and carries with him a crowbar-like weapon. Known only as The Fireman, he’s managed to turn his own case of Dragonscale into both a defense mechanism and a weapon, which he uses against those harming other infected people.
With the whole world going up in smoke around her, Harper attempts to make her way to a mysterious refugee camp set up to help the sick. But to do that, and to see her baby, she’ll need to learn The Fireman’s secret to controlling the fire within.
Can she hold the disease off long enough to find help or will her plan, and her body, go up in flames? Find out in Joe Hill’s smoking new thriller, The Fireman!
The Fireman greatly resembled other apocalyptic thrillers and horror stories (like Stephen King’s The Stand and Firestarter), but with a little Twilight: Breaking Dawn thrown in there. It works to a point, but becomes tiresome and a chore to read after about four hundred pages.
The Fireman is a cool character, and Harper is a bona fide heroine, but the story drags on far longer than it needs to–packing in umpteen references and nods to other famous books within the genre.
There’s also a pretty obvious political agenda written into the plot, which I’m not a big fan of. I prefer my thrillers to thrill, not carry a subliminal message about multiple hot-button issues facing the country during this election period. I understand that the author has his opinions, and that’s cool. I just wish they weren’t so out in the open here, since this is, after all, a work of fiction designed to entertain.
That’s a minor complaint, though, as my biggest issue is the sheer length of the story, which absolutely has dry spells and times when the plot lacks… heat.
Author: Joe Hill
Pages: 747 (Hardcover)
Publisher: William Marrow
Release Date: May 17, 2016 (Order now!)