I received The Fireman in exchange for an honest review.
My first experience with Joe Hill was when I read NOS4A2 late last year. I thought that was great, and gave it five stars. The Fireman is on another level. This bold, emotional, epic read sees Hill firmly stepping out of his father’s shadow (if he was even in it before?) and into the limelight, cementing himself as a sheer genius in creative writing.
First things first, this book is long. I didn’t realise when I blithely requested it on Netgalley and immediately started reading upon acceptance, but it’s almost 800 pages. But I actually think it benefited from that. The length gives the reader the chance to become fully immersed in the post-pandemic world and – most importantly – in Harper, an incredibly well-drawn and authentic character, one of my favourite protagonists in a long time.
Harper Grayson is a school nurse; she’s kind, caring and her greatest inspiration in life is Mary Poppins. She’s just lovely but when the world starts going up in flames around her, she has to fight back. And it does – thanks to ‘Dragonscale’. This mysterious spore appears first shows itself on the skin, creating intricate black and gold markings up and down the body. Those markings begin to glow, and eventually the spore sets its host on fire. Harper begins to work at a hospital helping those infected, but eventually that goes up in flames and she finds herself infected too. Not only that, she’s also pregnant, and for that reason she is desperate to find a way to survive and avoid spontaneously combusting – at least until she’s had the baby. Enter the Fireman; a mysterious figure who steps in, whisking her away from her shallow, bitter husband and to a place where she might just be able to live out her pregnancy.
So much happens in this epic story that it is difficult to summarise plot in just a paragraph or two. Suffice to say I’ve really only given you the introduction; it’s once Harper escapes her previous existence and begins learning to live with, and control, her dragonscale that things really get interesting. Hill takes the reader on a rollercoaster of emotions in an incredibly thrilling, original and inventive story. But through the good and the bad, Harper remains her perky, determined self, acting as a soothing antidote to the horrors which surround her.
Joe Hill is an author I usually associate with horror more than anything else, but with this book he’s broken the boundaries of genre. There’s elements of horror, but it’s also a realistic look at what could happen in a dystopian, post-pandemic world; it’s about cult mentality and most importantly humanity and relationships. Amongst the drama and action, Hill offers us beautiful miniature character studies, not just of the main players but more minor characters too, whilst never dropping the pace. A simply stunning, thrilling and heart-wrenching novel.