Book Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

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Title: The Fireman
Author: Joe Hill
ISBN: 9780062200631
Pages: 768
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Publisher: William Morrow
Genre: Horror, Thriller

From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2, Horns, and Heart-Shaped Box comes an unnerving novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes

Stay cool . . .

No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one . . . Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks—before causing them to burst into flames.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse treated hundreds of infected patients before contracting the deadly virus herself. 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 now wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their once-placid New England community collapses in terror.

But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger, a man wearing a dirty yellow firefighter’s jacket and carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known simply 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.

. . . The Fireman is coming.

— From HarperCollins Canada website

I had to patiently wait until closer to Halloween to start reading The Fireman, because it was on my Spooktober reading list. My patience, however, ran out by mid-September, so I ran out and got myself a copy. It took me all of two days to read this door-stopper.

Right off the bat I have to say that I see a lot of Stephen King in his son’s writing. Sometimes it can be a bad thing, but not in this case. More than anything, Joe Hill is paying tribute to his famous father – intentionally or subconsciously, we might not know, – but it’s definitely there.

The Fireman bears heavy traces of King’s most celebrated epic The Stand: the pregnant main character, the deaf boy named Nick, the Something-Something Man as a creepy villain lurking in the shadows, the cult-like congregation of survivors, and of course, the mysterious plague threatening to destroy the humanity for good. While these plot elements take root on the similar ground, the books take on two very different paths, creating strong, original works, each great in its own right.

Just like King, Hill does a lot of references to pop culture, but his are a bit easier to relate to, simply because they are more relevant to contemporary reader. He mentions Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead, Captain America, and even alludes to the Clinton/Trump presidential race. He also places random fun cameos by J.K. Rowling, whom he obviously idolizes, and Martha Quinn – the pillar of early MTV days. These are fun to pick out, like Easter Eggs.

The characters are done very well, but I think Joe Hill has a room to grow to match his father’s sharp sense of human faults. Harper tends to turn the other cheek a bit too often. I think anyone in her place would snap at least once and do what feels good, and not what is right. Maybe, in a way, her husband Jacob has a right idea about her incessant desire to help others just being an outlet for ego-stroking, but Hill doesn’t really explore that side of her.

In a similar sense, I wish Fireman would be more present in the story, instead of appearing as a mysterious rescuer with perfect timing. I wish Hill played a little more with the grayscale of human psyche, but he can certainly write a dark, hate-inducing villain. Both Jacob and Marlboro Man are vile and sinister, and I love it.

The Fireman raises some harrowing imagery in regards to treatment of the sick and the misunderstood by the rest of the society, which I can appreciate. It also does a great job at reminding us that we might not be in as much control of the world around us as we think. It appeals to the very core of us. The plagues, the disasters, and the end of the world seem to be the topics that never leave out subconsciousness; we might not like to think how close we are to them with the passing of each day, but at the same time the fascination with the morbid continues.

The plot is fresh, despite the familiar genre, and never seizes to move along. There are several mystery subplots that really keep you going until the last page. I remember myself clutching the book in my hands and desperately trying not to peak into the future chapters, because I just couldn’t stand the suspense anymore.

If you are already a fan of Stephen King, you will have no problem enjoying Joe Hill’s writing too. I also recommend it anyone looking for a solid post-apocalyptic drama that makes you feel the entire range of emotions, from hope, to anger, to disrepair. This might be my first Hill, but I know it wouldn’t be my last.

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