Be Warned: Here Be Spoilers
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic Horror.
The Fireman, by Joe Hill (son of Stephen King), is set in a dystopian and post-apocalyptic world where the theme is the race for survival of those infected with a fungus called Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or more commonly known as Dragonscale, the ‘scale’, or the ‘spore’. The story is told through the perspective of the main protagonist: Harper Grayson (neé Willowes), a nurse who believes in her work despite her own safety.
Harper works at Portsmouth Hospital, New Hampshire, where she meets the Fireman while treating people who have Dragonscale. Although beautiful, Dragonscale is deadly; causing people to ignite and incinerate from the inside out. Due to a chain reaction of incineration, Portsmouth Hospital burns down. Nurse Harper later discovers that she’s pregnant, and a couple weeks after, sees her first black line on her thigh indicating infection. Harper must survive through many life-threatening scenarios, including the one from within.
Harper, along with the Fireman John Rookwood, Allie and Nick Storey, and Renée Gilmonton, fight off not only the deadly effects of Dragonscale but also firing squads, police, and their once community of infected. All to find a sanctuary where Harper can deliver her baby safely and they can live without the constant threat of death.
A curiously good read, leaving suspense and action throughout the chapters that creates the urge to read just one more page before bed. The Fireman has an original take on a possible apocalypse of the world with the potential of its events going horribly wrong all the time.
Definitely John Rookwood with his glum, dark humour yet playful demeanour and view of the current predicament of the world. As the Fireman, an image he has taken upon himself through a jest with his late girlfriend, John sets out to rescue and help others with Dragonscale. In a world burning, looking like a fireman is the best way to stay inconspicuous.
John understands the fungus and is able light himself on fire without burning, throw fireballs, and project himself as a huge fire devil. John also creates a phoenix of flame and spore, which Harper finds is more like John than him in his human body.
The fire devil scene, when John, Allie, Harper and a few others went by row boats to rescue two small-time convicts with Dragonscale, hiding from the police. John creates a distraction for the police and firemen by making himself into a large devil, complete with horns, wings and tail. The fire that was John, created enough chaos and smoke, allowed the trapped men to escape to the boats. John even fire-forged a pitchfork during his showing-off of power.
“A better name for Dragonscale would be the Nietzsche virus- if it doesn’t kill you, it makes you stronger.”
What Worked For Me:
The concept of an incineration fungus. Combining spontaneous combustion with infection really tickled my nerd-fancy, as well as the (speculative) scientific takes on the ‘scale’ and its abilities and effects.
What Didn’t Work:
The lack of terror put me off. I kept reading and reading, waiting for horror. The essence of horror was there: the infection that makes you burn yourself alive and the psychosis of the people with and without the infection, but there were very few horror scenes happening to the main characters and, in the little that was, the characters seemed to brush it off as odd but not unnerving.
While the book was a great concept and a good, easy read, it lacked so much. The potential was bursting through the words for a truly terrifying experience but the story has no dread. The crippling fear of knowing that you could burst into flames at any second, not to mention the horror of seeing everyone around you burn alive from inside, was barely touched. The Fireman read more like a sci-fi drama than a horror, which I still appreciate and it is still a really good book: a book you could read at night, alone in an abandoned mansion during a thunderstorm and still sleep well. It left me dreaming about firebirds and dragons.
Image retrieved from Amazon.com