The Fireman

The Fireman Book Cover The Fireman
Joe Hill
Horror
William Morrow
May 17, 2016
Hardcover
752

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.

 

The Fireman was more of a 3.5 star book but managed to hold my attention through its lengthy page count. Enough that the half star deserves to be rounded up instead of down. That being said, the book is a bit of a mixed bag. Some things are good, others are bad. On the whole, the good does outweigh the bad. The extent to which that is the case (if it is) will vary from reader to reader.

This is a sort of post-apocalypse story. A fair amount of time passes over the course of The Fireman, carrying the story from the start of the disaster to its aftermath. It is not so extreme that humanity is facing its end, but modern society certainly changes forever. That being said, the book only highlights the big picture of how things are changing from time to time. The main characters are fairly isolated for most of the story, giving things sort of a Walking Dead vibe. But the level of devastation is more on the level of the Black Plague than a true apocalypse. Compared to life before everything is terrible now, but the human race is not completely doomed.

As far as real-world comparatives go, The Fireman is probably more similar to The Stand than any other book. Both books involve a new super-disease that runs rampant and devastates society. In the aftermath, the survivors largely find themselves in one of two camps that are ultimately set against each other. The body count from the disease is not quite as high in The Fireman, but its effects are still similar. Another common factor is the fact that both books are fairly slow.

If The Fireman had one weakness, it is that is was a slow burn. This is not a story that skips around between major events. Those moments of danger are certainly more intense, but just as much page space is given to the characters living their new lives as well. There are some time skips here and there, but the story features as many slice-of-life sections as anything else. It would be a little extreme to call this a bad choice. But parts of the book just crawl. To the point where readers feel a little thankful when something bigger starts happening again. For people who love horror/thriller, The Fireman is a recommended read. For people who do not care for longer stories, not so much.

January 13, 2019

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