Anyone that listens to the show regularly is sure to know that I grew up reading Stephen King novels, starting with Pet Semetary, slowly graduating into his more mature and psychological works. It wasn’t all that long ago that the same person that introduced me to King, my dad, introduced me to his son, Joe Hill. I’d heard the name before, primarily from people talking about his Locke & Key series, but at the time had never had the pleasure of reading his work. Since then, I have gotten up-to-date with all of Hill’s work (save for L&K, shame on me) and have thoroughly enjoyed the trip. Hill’s newest work, The Fireman, creates a roller coaster of emotion that is equal parts hatred, love, hope, and despair.
The story centers around Harper Grayson, an elementary school nurse who answers the call of duty when the world is thrown into chaos as an outbreak of the deadly spore, Draco Incendia Trychophyton, better known as “Dragonscale,” grows into a worldwide pandemic, causing the afflicted to spontaneously combust. No one knows where it came from, no one knows how it’s transmitted and worst of all, no one knows how to cure it. When the telltale black and gold markings of Dragonscale appear on Harper’s own skin, she is shunned by her husband and housebound for fear of spreading the disease, and of “cremation crews,” psychotics who are hell bent on eliminating the afflicted. Harper finds a glimmer of hope in a growing group of refugees, hiding and taking shelter in a summer camp set far back in the woods. Her constant source of intrigue is a private man, known as The Fireman, who can call forward and control the Dragonscale, casting flames from his hands with no pain or injury. As time goes on, leadership struggles, cremation crews, and the ever-present threat of immolation cause this world on fire to burn even hotter.
As someone who has been told he’s exactly like his dad his entire life, I know the struggle of getting out from under a parent’s shadow and being your own person. Hill’s work, to me, has always had at least a whisper of his old man’s style. However, where his first novel Heart Shaped Box could have possibly passed as one of King’s early works, this new tome sets Hill apart more than ever before. He describes a character with enough detail for the reader to paint a mental image, but without bogging down the flow of the story. With the current political environment of the United States being at a near fever pitch, the power struggles and constant threat of an enemy attack in The Fireman creates a tense echo of our own reality.
Like his previous novel, NOS4A2, Hill chooses a female lead character. However, where Vic was a crude, unapologetic cynic, Harper has an aura of pleasantness around her. I don’t know about you, but my elementary sure could have used a Mary Poppins-obsessed nurse. Her Disney/Rowling/Tolkien-filled mind might remind us all of someone we know, maybe even ourselves. She believes in people, which makes the reader want to believe in people, even when the world is crashing down around the characters. The title of the novel is a bit deceptive. The Fireman is indeed a prominent part of the story, but Harper is our real hero(ine). Her levelheadedness and compassion is a calm in the fire storm that the world has become that you can’t help but embrace. Hill’s ability to write for a woman is beyond impressive; one has to wonder if he had his wife making spot edits along the way.
Boiling things down, this book was awesome. I loved how it made me feel, regardless of what that feeling might be. I felt hate for the judgmental cremation crews, I felt compassion for the afflicted, I felt dread for the state of the world, but I felt hopeful that everything would be okay in the end. After finishing NOS4A2, I waited for this novel to release with bated breath and it did not disappoint. The Fireman is a BIG TIME recommend, a no-shame addition to any bibliophile’s library.