Book Review: The Fireman

Thursday, January 5, 2017

The Fireman by Joe Hill


From the publisher:
From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes The Fireman, which was an instant #1 New York Times bestseller when published in hardcover last year. The Fireman is 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.

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.

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This is one of the most ingenious, inventive book concepts I have ever encountered. The near-future, terrifying world Hill creates here took my breath away. It feels so darkly realistic (the pop culture and technology references promote this sense of reality) and so incredibly haunting that I absolutely couldn't put it down. This book is huge, but it feels like nothing. I flew through every page, craving more of the story, needing to know what would happen.

As with most large books, the description offered by the publisher just scratches the surface. There is so much depth to this book. It examines human reactions to trauma, loss and pain in such stunningly brilliant ways. This is an incredibly psychological book, as well as an edge-of-your-seat suspense novel. It's brilliant.

Harper is a protagonist I would read in any story. She's incredibly strong and passionate and relatable. That helps me so much as a reader. The events of this story don't feel too realistic yet, but they also don't feel totally impossible. Having a down to earth main character helps to ground the book and pull me in.

I had two small issues with the book. First, more often than I'd like, Hill ends a chapter with some premonition of what will come. For example, something like "But she was wrong." or "She didn't realize that was the last time she'd see her." (these are not ones he uses, don't worry). I like things like this once in a while in a book, because it gives me that suspenseful knot in my stomach. However, by the end, I felt like he'd used this technique just a few too many times.
Second, the way the author represents deafness and sign language communication was a little annoying. This is probably something that will bother almost no other readers, but bothered me just because I speak sign language and have a deaf aunt. There is a deaf child character in this book (which I love!) who can communicate with very few people, because so few of the characters speak sign language. The protagonist, Harper, eventually meets this boy and asks him to teach her sign language. By the last quarter of the book or more, she's somehow basically fluent and is constantly conversing with him using complicated words and full sentences in ASL. This is not very realistic. Sign language is challenging to learn and takes time; especially considering how much is going on in the book at this time, I don't really believe that she learned so much so quickly. However, I do realize that a character needed to give the deaf child, Nick, a voice, so that he can have dialogue. Also, the author continually includes something like, "Nick said with his hands" or "She replied in sign language." This is helpful to be reminded of from time to time, but at some point it's just assumed and becomes redundant. A deaf person is still just "saying" something, even if it's with ASL rather than out loud. However, these really are tiny complaints and took very little away from the story for me.  

This book really is amazing. It's epic, in size, scope and scale. I loved it. Highly recommended.

Thank you to HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for sponsoring this tour Check out the rest of the tour stops here

1 comment:

  1. I LOVE viral contagion stories - I'm getting this one from right now!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour.