“Joe Hill really could set the world on fire with this book: cleverly imagined and a compulsive read.”
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
”…Her left arm was sheet music. Delicate black lines spooled around and around her forearm, bars as thin as the strands of a spiderweb, with what looked like golden notes scattered across them. She found herself pulling her sleeve back to look at it every few minutes. By the end of the following week, she was sketched in Dragonscale from wrist to shoulder.
When she got over feeling winded and sick, she had to admit to herself that it was curiously beautiful.”
These lines from the book are probably the perfect description of the nature of the book. The Fireman by Joe Hill is grotesque in the most unexpected places, it is about the vanity of placing your faith completely in the hands of someone else, it is about being a part of something just because it makes you happy without questioning for a moment the cost of such happiness and at the same time it is about the relentless human promise that finds the will to not just survive, but live to the fullest in the most desperate moments when all seems lost.
Based in a futuristic bleak world, The Fireman manages to be scarier than any dystopian novel released in the last decade. So much so that it secured the title of the Best Horror Book of 2016 in the Goodreads Choice Awards. Our protagonist, Harper Grayson, is working as a school nurse when a virus called “Draco Incendia Trychophyton” also not-so-fondly known as Dragonscale, mysteriously starts killing off people by making them spontaneously combust. She decides to answer the need of the hour and starts working at a hospital till one day a deaf-mute boy comes in with a Fireman. A few days later one morning, the hospital is burned to bits and Harper contracts the Dragonscale forcing her highly condescending husband to be fixated on the idea that they need to end their lives to save the future. Meanwhile, Harper finds out that she is pregnant and probably after a long time in her life makes a decision for herself and chooses to live and bring the kid into the world. With the help of the Fireman she met before, Harper escapes her now deranged husband and finds a community of affected people who welcome her with their special secret- they can control Dragonscale. This means that the people there don’t burst into flames and live life as outlaws making do with what they have.
The community on the outside is beautiful but their method of controlling the disease is worrisome to say the least. Nothing crazy like human sacrifices but something much more sinister- Blind Faith. What follows is the most heart wrenching and twisted tale of betrayal, confusion, tragedy, and beauty. The Fireman is scary not because people were dying and burning, losing loved ones or projectile firefighting. It is horrifying because it tackled topics like Religion, Fanaticism, Hope, Despair, Democracy so horribly and with such realistic consequences. Just the fact that the protagonist is pregnant and going through hell on earth for more than half the book is enough to make anyone cringe with fear.
The Fireman talks about community and how not everyone is what you expect and how even after all hope is lost, there is this one seed of hope that will just not let you give up.
Joe Hill paints a beautiful picture wherever he takes us, not just in the scenic sense but also emotionally. He shows grief the way one expects to see it, in all its raw glory and does not stop to comfort us before shooting another disaster in our way. Those who wish to move on from the Young Adult dystopian drama and to the essence of what makes us so human should definitely read this book.
Added 21st April 2017
NO MAJOR SPOILERS
Back in October, the local Waterstones announced that Joe Hill would be visiting on a tour for his new book, The Fireman. Now although I’ve only read Horns, I’d still say he’s one of my favourite authors, and I jumped at the chance to go. There, he explained his ideas behind the novel, read us an excerpt that I now recognise, and signed both my copy of Horns and an excerpt of The Fireman (with doodles all over them). Since October, I have been curious about this story, and I have waited for it to be released. When I got the chance to receive a review copy, how could I say no?
The Fireman is long. Great, and a favourite of mine for sure, but it is a very long read, over 700 pages, so before you start you’ve got to realise you’re making a bit of a commitment. In a book that long, of course there were slow parts – some at the beginning, some at the middle, and some even at the end – but that doesn’t detract from the ingenuity of the plot or the world-building in general.
The book revolves around the idea of a spore, a contagious spore that once caught, causes humans to spontaneously combust. For the sake of not spooling anything, I’ll leave it vague, but even through the vagueness, you can tell it’ll be interesting. For the past few years, the media has had an obsession with zombies – this is the same principle, except with an interesting twist. We’re obsessed with our own demise, and I think Hill created a fantastical, but not too unbelievable, tale.
I think what made me give this a full five stars is definitely the characters. People don’t always grasp how characterisation can take a book from, say, a two-star to a four-star rating – or vice versa. Hill created dozens of characters, so many that you lose count – but somehow, each of them has their own individual personality, and each had their share in the limelight, even if it was just for a chapter. And the main characters? I feel like I’m part of their group, their family – especially Harper and Nick. I think Harper may be a character that readers could potentially find annoying – she is inherently good, lawful good, and sometimes readers want protagonists with a bit of spark – a bit of rebellion and anger! However, I think for this novel, Harper was perfect. Yes, she’s good, but that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have views, morals, or her own mind – and it sure as heck doesn’t mean she won’t swear the house down. She was the perfect combination of everything, and I honestly think she’s one of my favourite protagonists. Nick comes as a close second – who couldn’t love him?
Overall, I’d say this book is definitely worth a read, but only if you are into the science-fiction/horror/
Added 7th June 2016