The Fireman by Joe Hill

I review The Fireman, the latest work of brilliance by Joe Hill.

The world is on fire. Dragonscale aka Draco Incendia Trychophyton is a spore that transmits itself through the ash of the bodies it causes to burst into flame. Its victims are covered in tattoos of flame, their eyes glowing, their bodies a walking Molotov cocktail.

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Nurse Harper witnesses the spontaneous combustion of a man in the playground, and realises that this is just the very beginning of the end. She goes to work in the hospital, trying to contain the contagion and reassure the people who haven’t yet been infected. Everything is under control, until Harper becomes infected and falls pregnant on the same day.

Her husband Jakob freaks out, and Harper finds herself running for her and her baby’s lives. The Fireman and his two masked sidekicks, Allie and Nick, appear, and promise to take her somewhere safe.

Behold Camp Wyndham, the safe place that always exists in these apocalyptic stories, and is never very safe. Put a bunch of terrified people together, low on food and high on worship, add in the very real possibility of spontaneously combusting, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

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.

Keeping this review relatively spoiler-free is fairly difficult. I want to delve into everything that happens, because it really is that good. The action is fast-paced, the relationships are grown naturally, and the characters are real and complicated. Pick it up, because you will enjoy it. And if you don’t, you are wrong.

Joe Hill clearly loves Britain. He also loves swearing with abandon, which makes me think he’d fit in well over here. I learnt some new obscenities from this book, and should warn anyone who doesn’t like swearing that the C-word is used about seventeen times in quick succession. I had the pleasure of meeting Joe last year at GollanczFest, and he expressed obvious delight at being in Britain, and observing our little oddities. Harper’s love of Mary Poppins and Harry Potter and Hobbitses and terrible accent is what makes most English people groan at the silly Americans, but, as Joe says, we’ve been advertising ourselves in this way for so long, we only have ourselves to blame.

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The Fireman is yet another triumph from the annoyingly talented Joe Hill. I love everything he writes, and will happily sing his praises. Well, maybe not sing…

The mystical tone of The Fireman reminds me of Horns, where it seems completely normal for people to be turning into demons and bursting into flame. Honestly, the most fantastical thing about this novel is the fact that the Fireman, a British man, doesn’t like tea. What utter nonsense.

The Fireman is due out in May. To win a copy, enter the Goodreads giveaway here.

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