The Fireman by Joe Hill
Format: DRC provided by William Morrow through Edelweiss
Release Date: May 17, 2016
Genre: Fiction, horror, apocalyptic, post-apocalyptic, thriller, as usual humans are the real problem
Rating: 4.3 out of 5 stars
Summary: Humanity is on its way out due to a disease called Draco Incendia Trychophyton which causes spontaneous combustion. With fires raging across the country and no known cure, Dragonscale is slowly destroying society. While Cremation Crews are trying to kill the infected and stop the disease from spreading, the Fireman is fighting back with the one thing that sets him apart: his ability to control the fire inside of him.
Joe Hill’s intriguing NOS4A2 follow-up has arrived!
The Fireman is set in a world where a contagious spore called Draco Incendia Trychophyton (AKA Dragonscale) is infecting humanity, marking their skin with beautiful yet deadly black bands flecked with gold scales. While pretty to look at, the disease ultimately causes the carrier to spontaneously combust.
At the center of Hill’s latest tome is Harper, one of the few actually kind and compassionate humans left. A nurse by trade, quirky Harper is known for singing lines from 1960s musicals, idolizing Mary Poppins and replacing curse words with Julie Andrews-isms.
Due to her innate kindness, when the ‘scale decimates humanity, Harper puts her own life on the line at a local hospital to take care of the infected. Even her own precautions however cannot protect her from the spore, which she inadvertently brings home after a deadly accident.
Harper’s goodness is put to the test by her self-serving husband Jakob, who victim blames Harper for getting infected (“You brought home Dragonscale but couldn’t be bothered to get us something so we can take care of each other. And then on top of it you get yourself pregnant.”) and is writing a secret novel about a man in an “unfulfilling marriage” to a “cheerfully shallow blonde who can’t spell.” A secret novel in which he discusses the multiple real life women he wants to have sex with, and that’s not even the worst of his crimes.
Don’t hate Jakob enough yet? He also spouts this choice line: “I’ve never once met a woman who had any true intellectual rigor.” Oh yeah, and he also goes on a murderous rampage.
What follows is Harper’s frightening journey through a slowly crumbling society, complete with a a group of cult-like religious fanatics who think they’re doing the right thing (because humans are the real disease), and an island in Maine run by MTV VJ Martha Quinn where the infected can live in peace. Not to mention a group of the non-infected who gleefully refer to themselves as Cremation Crews and mercilessly hunt down those with the ‘scale.
It’s not all bad though, there’s also Harper’s new friend the Fireman, who has the ability to harness the fire running through his veins, giving him superhuman like abilities that include creating sentient animals out of flames.
Despite taking in place in a fictional future, The Fireman has some intriguing callbacks to real life events such as the Ebola scare (leftover Ebola suits are used by doctors working with the infected) and scenes that are reminiscent of 9/11, particularly when footage of people throwing themselves out of the Space Needle (which is burning to the ground) is shown on the news.
There’s also some really great pop culture references, such as Glenn Beck spontaneously combusting on live television and the Google doodle being used to wish humanity a final farewell.
The least horror-esque of Joe Hill’s novels — which is in no way a bad thing — this story feels like more of a thriller with some psychological horror thrown in for good measure. From the occasional Lord of the Flies feel when Harper finds herself welcomed into the mysterious world of the Bright to the human on human violence, The Fireman poses one especially frightening question: how do you live when you know you’re on borrowed time?
- How do you even think of this premise?
- Fun twist on the “humans are the real monsters” theme after you realize humans are the real disease
- Love, love, loved all the pop culture references
- Nice blend of action, humor and psychological horror
- Perhaps due to its length, at times it became difficult to see where the story was going
- “She associated English accents with singing teapots, schools for witchcraft, and the science of deduction. …She felt the English were themselves to blame for her feelings. They had spent a century relentlessly marketing their detectives and wizards and nannies, and they had to live with the results.”
- “There’s something horribly unfair about dying in the middle of a good story, before you have a chance to see how it all comes out. Of course, I suppose everyone always dies in the middle of a good story, in a sense. Your own story. …Death is a raw deal for narrative junkies.”
- “She came back from the eighties to save mankind. Martha Quinn is our only hope.”
- “All Fireman are wedded to cinders, in the end.”
With all the exciting Joe Hill projects happening right now (like the latest attempt to adapt the amazing Locke & Key) it might be a while before the author’s fifth novel, but I for one can’t wait to see what his crazy mind comes up with next!