A plague of spores begins to spread, creating gold-flaked, tattoo-like marks across the skin of the infected and eventually causing these poor people to spontaneously combust. This is not your daddy’s apocalypse. The plot centers on a twenty-something woman named Harper and her journey through this dark new world, her own development of the virus known lovingly as “Dragonscale,” and her relationship with the mysterious Fireman.
I expected certain things out of this novel because Joe Hill is one of the better horror/dark fiction writers out there right now, and not all of those expectations were necessarily met. Now that may lead you to believe a bad review is forthcoming, but you’ll be disappointed if you’ve come to read some trash talk. Is this a glowing review? No. But I definitely liked the book. I’ve seen a few complaints about it, and perhaps some of them are worthwhile, but none of them affect my opinion much. Do I think it’s Hill’s best book? Not by a long shot. It’s just on a different tip from the other novels of his I’ve read.
One of the biggest complaints I’ve seen about The Fireman is that it’s too long. Fair enough. I happen to disagree. It may have a lot of pages, but it didn’t feel long to me at all. It read very quickly despite being over 700 pages. I think that’s because Hill chose to pace this book with (mostly) very short chapters. I appreciate this approach in general, but I think it worked especially well in this book. Long, drawn out chapters might have sunk this tale and made it stale. However, I would have liked an extra scene or two with the Cremation Crew, the Marlboro Man, and Harper’s ex-husband Jakob.
Without spoiling the story, the character of The Fireman is what surprised me the most. I think I expected him to be a villain, but it’s clear from the moment he first appears that he is quite the opposite. And even though he is not the main protagonist of the book (that would be Harper, naturally), he is a dynamic and interesting character.
My only real complaints are pretty minor. First, there are way too many references to The Chronicles of Narnia. One or two I could have lived with, but there must be at least half a dozen here. I have to believe they were all intentional and not something that was missed in the editing process, but I can’t figure out for the life of me what significance they held. Also, I think Harper wasn’t having enough of a physical struggle during the later days of her pregnancy. Once she hits the 9-month mark, it becomes evident, but I feel she should have been a lot less agile a couple of months prior to that. But what do I know? I’ve never been a pregnant woman before.
As with Hill’s other books, there are moments of poetic and literary genius, but overall I think The Fireman is perhaps a little less literary and a tad more mainstream than his previous work. His style still seeps through, but it is a little more toned down than usual. He’s working a little more in his dad’s territory here, which is not the case in his other novels. This book could probably be considered his version of The Stand.
Overall, The Fireman is an above average book by an exceptional writer and worth reading if you are a fan of Hill or want to check out a unique take on a post-apocalyptic tale.