The Fireman by Joe Hill

Posted On 9 June 2016

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TheFiremanJust finished reading The Fireman by Joe Hill which is my first book by this author and certainly won’t be my last.

I went into this story cold.  I didn’t even properly read the write up for the book to be honest.  I just knew I wanted to try it and I didn’t want any hints before doing so.  I’m not really sure what I was expecting, given the title and the book cover, something explosive but also given the two books I already own by this author that I’m waiting to read, I also figured something based in the land of fantasy.  In actual fact what the author gives us here is a rather terrifying glimpse into a world gone quite insane with fear and mass hysteria.  I don’t know whether it’s purely coincidence that by removing three letters from the word ‘pandemic’ that you have the word ‘panic’ but it certainly seems to be that the one follows the other – especially here.  And I can’t deny that this was, in spite of it’s length, a compelling and horrifying read, particularly so as it has a remarkably easy to believe quality to it.

The premise of the story.  A worldwide pandemic that infects it’s victims with a spore that takes root within a person. It has a much longer name but is commonly known as Dragonscale.  The first signs are a series of eye catching swirls and stripes that appear on the infected person’s bodies.  Almost like black and gold tattoos that are beautiful to look upon but spell the beginning of the end for the carrier.  As the disease takes hold the infected person literally becomes a human time bomb – waiting to burst into flame with no real knowledge of when, why or how.  Of course as the disease spreads and the infected take refuge in hospitals and other centres one act of spontaneous combustion can quite literally set off a chain reaction that can spell devastation for the area in question.  This in turn causes fear both in the infected and in those not affected and eventually results in a breakdown in the way people behave and treat each other.

Throughout the story we follow a very strong and easy to like character named Harper.  Harper is a nurse.  This isn’t just a job to Harper but a vocation.  She loves to help people and has a calm nature when dealing with a crisis.  At the start of the story she works in a school but pretty soon, as the civilisation we know starts to break down, she volunteers at a hospital – until one day she wakes to find the gold and black swirls adorning her own body.  Harper’s story then changes dramatically, at the same time as becoming infected with the disease she also learns she’s pregnant and she desperately wants to survive to deliver the baby.  Her husband has different ideas.

From this point on the story, and indeed the world portrayed is beginning to spiral out of control with the infected simply trying to hide and stay alive.  Gangs of wannabe vigilantes start to form, searching for the infected.  They call themselves ‘the Cremation Crew’ and as the name suggests they don’t want to offer tea and sympathy but rather a more speedy demise to those carrying the spore.

At the same time a character known as ‘The Fireman’ begins his own crusade.  Sweeping in to rescue those people who are being persecuted he pretty quickly garners a reputation as a hero with superhuman abilities.

I don’t want to give too much away but eventually Harper finds refuge of sorts at a place called Camp Wyndham where other carriers are hiding.  To be honest it feels a little at this point like Harper has gone from the frying pan into the fire as the people in Wyndham, whilst appearing to have found a way to beat the inevitable fire and death also have a ‘cult’ like feel.  They’re suffering from their own ‘pack’ fear and are starting to take the ‘all for one, one for all’ mantra a little too far.

The whole story has the feel of a ticking bomb.  The infected trying to stay hidden.  The Cremation Crew becoming more bloodthirsty in their attempts to rid the world of the infected.  And everyone, whether they have the disease or not, falling victim to fear.

What I really liked about this.  It’s well written.  The author really manages to instill a sense of awful and impending doom.  Like the people in the story the fear seemed to seep from the pages until I was reading with an ever growing sense of dread.  I also really enjoyed the way that both sets of characters are wracked with fear, seemingly for different reasons but put basically the fear of death.   I thought the concept was really well explored, in fact maybe given a dose of too much reality giving it an even scarier feel and the characters are given a lot of depth.

In terms of criticisms.  This is a long book – almost 800 pages – I wouldn’t say that it felt long or onerous to read and I certainly didn’t find myself trying to skim anything but I do feel that some of this could have been tightened just a little without losing anything really significant.  I also had issues with the ending – particularly in terms of being a little easy to second guess and also in one respect a bit disappointing – although I do like that the ending remains open.

I think if you like books such as The Road, The Passage, The Girl With All the Gifts or books that have an ‘apocalyptic’ feel then you would probably love this too.  I’m not trying to compare this or say it’s the same as any of those books, this book stands on it’s own two feet, but it has that catastrophe, things spiralling into decay, end of world, brutal and harsh feel.  And, no zombies.  Just saying.

I thought this was a good read and would definitely recommend.  It is long but it has plenty going on and the pace is relentless (in fact I almost, at points, wished the author would give the characters a break!)

I received a copy courtesy of the publishers through Edelweiss for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.



13 Responses to “The Fireman by Joe Hill”

  1. sjhigbee

    Oh my word! This sounds like a real roller-coaster read… I’ll have to recover from The Passage, first and the weather will have to stay warm – but it sounds like one I’ll get hold of sometimte this summer.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It is a roller coaster – no moment for a breather really! Very well written and with great depth.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Drew @ TheTattooedBookGeek

    Great review, I’m currently reading this and enjoying it, only about 3000 Kindle locations in but it seems good so far. It’s my first book by the author to. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I look forward to seeing what you make of it. It’s very well written and got plenty of depth.
      Lynn 😀

  3. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    I was looking forward to your review of this, and it confirmed the good “book vibes” I received since hearing about it: my penchant for “the end of the world as we know it” books made this title the target of my attention, and I’m happy to know it delivers on its promise. Thank you for a very insightful review! 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Thanks. It was a great book. It’s very long read but I don’t particularly mind that in fact I find it gives the book a lot more depth, a bit like reading Cronin’s Passage or The Historian. I guess you either like that level of detail or not. I did think it could have been sharpened a little but nothing major.
      It certainly has made me keen to pick ups he other two books that I have of his.
      Lynn 😀

  4. Cover2CoverMom

    I went to see Stephen King speak tonight in Ohio on his book your and he suggested this book to us for obvious reasons! Nice to know he takes after his Dad 😊

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, I think a few people have suggested this has a few similarities to King’s Stand but I haven’t read it so couldn’t say. It thought it was very good though.
      Lynn 😀

  5. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    I really enjoyed this one! In some ways it did have the feeling of your typical dystopian, end-of-the-world novel, but Joe Hill adds his own flair to it. I also would be curious to know what it is about the ending that you had issues with! For me, it was a little predictable, like I could see the resolution to their final dilemma coming a mile away. I also thought the book could have been trimmed a bit. I was never bored, but yikes, this was quite the tome!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I thought the ending was a little bit obvious and I wish he hadn’t gone for the easy to predict choice. I was kind of disappointed about the fireman but there you go. On reflection I wonder whether this should have been called The Nurse because it was Harper’s book really. I did really appreciate the depth that Hill achieves but I think it could definitely have been tightened. Like you say, I wasn’t bored but I think there were a few bits and pieces that could have been taken out. A good read though.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Carmen

    Sounds like the creep factor is at an all time high with this book.

    • @lynnsbooks

      It’s a very solid story and very deep. Well worth a read – no zombies but an apocalyptic feel.
      Lynn 😀

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