The Fireman by Joe Hill: Book Review

The Fireman by Joe Hill Book Cover

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The Fireman by Joe Hill Book Cover
3 Stars

Title: The Fireman
Author: Joe Hill
Genre: Horror, Dystopian
Audience: Adult
Format: Paperback ARC

Synopsis from GoodReads:

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.

My Review:

I try hard to avoid any blurbs or early reviews of books that I’m really anticipating, but somehow things just seep into my consciousness and I’m not even sure how they got there. So in addition to having my own ridiculously high hopes for this book, I’d come across things like “Hill’s magnum opus!” and “his best work to date!” which ratcheted my expectations even higher. I was being setup for a letdown and it wasn’t even Hill’s fault.

This might actually be my least favorite of Hill’s books. I should have reviewed this earlier so I could get more specific but here goes.

Harper, the main character, irritated the everloving crap out of me. She felt real alright–a little too real–so I do have to give the author mad props for that. She has a personality type that I come across fairly often in my line of work and I just don’t handle these people well. She knows the absolute best thing for everyone. It doesn’t matter what anyone else’s background is, she inevitably believes that she knows more and knows better and will run right over anyone else’s opinion. No, she won’t even register that anyone else has an opinion. She’s a nurse and ends up being the only healthcare provider that a lot of people have access to. She has tough decisions to make and impossible situations to deal with. I get that. She does her best with them. But had there been a doctor present, she still wouldn’t have sat back and let him or her handle anything; she would have been in the way, doing whatever she wanted to anyway. I just wanted her to listen to other people and actually think about what they had to say. Sure, question their motives and angles; I’m not advocating mindless following. Just listen. Ugh. She hit a nerve. Can you tell? I don’t even know how much of this she really did and how much of it I just projected from personal experience!

I wanted to know a lot more about the fireman, but in reality, I think his character worked so well for me precisely because he was so mysterious. He randomly appears, does miraculous things, then disappears back into the night. A burning crusader, if you will.

I liked or disliked the other characters as I was supposed to. Other characters actually did listen, evaluate, grow and change, a lot of them in good ways. There were some big old stinking surprises that caught me completely off guard as other characters showed their true colors.

This is obviously dystopian or post-Apocalyptic fiction but in addition to that, I don’t know that I would necessarily call it a horror novel, although it certainly has those elements. People are spontaneously bursting into flames, for heaven’s sake! What might be even more subtly horrifying is an element of going along and getting along that becomes necessary for survival. It’s hard to explain without getting into spoilers. But independent thought becomes almost life-threatening, and not for the reasons you would think. I had cold chills when I realized what was going on.

The pacing was all off for me. In my mind, there are three overall sections to the book. The buildup was excellent. It set up a lot of conflict, kept me reading, and was very visual. I could just see this disease working on people. I want to say that it would make a great movie, but the effects people could never capture what I imagined. Anyway. The second part dragged on a bit too long for me. I just wanted to get on with it already. And then the final section was just over. I kept getting more worried as the number of pages left in the book kept dwindling and I still had a lot of questions. There was just no way that everything could be wrapped up to my satisfaction in that space. I was right.

I’ve now looked at other reviews on GoodReads and I’m in the minority. It seems that everyone agrees that this is Hill’s best work. Except for me. But Hill on what I consider a mediocre try is still better than most other authors writing popular fiction/horror/suspense. Go ahead and pick this one up.

Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy for review.

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  1. I DNF’d it after 200 pages. Thank God it’s a library book, so I’m out not one dime. Harper was so annoying and irritating, and when my eyes start to roll, I know it’s time to stop and move on to another book. The Mary Poppins crap was dreadful. Life is too short and there’s a lot of good stuff out there to read. A lot of the dialogue was cringe-worthy and seemed like a teenager wrote it. I looked in dismay at the amount of paper left to plow through, and I just gave up. Loved Horns and NOS4A2, though.

    1. I don’t remember much about this book at this point but yes to Harper being annoying and the whole thing being entirely too long. NOS4A2 is my favorite of Hill’s books so far, though I didn’t care much for the TV show.

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