I am a fan of Joe Hill’s; Heart-Shaped Box is a novel that really excited me and I was completely mesmerised by Horns. Recently I was gifted Hill’s latest novel, The Fireman, for my birthday by fellow book worm Bronagh. At over 700 pages, this is a beast of a book.
The Fireman tells the story of school nurse Harper, a Julie Andrews wannabe who strongly believes a spoonful of sugar will help the medicine go down. That is, until the world starts burning around her.
Harper has just found out she is pregnant. She has also just discovered she has the strangely beautiful black and gold markings of Draco Incendia Trychophyton (aka Dragonscale), a contagion with seemingly only one outcome, spontaneous combustion. Once caught, it can not be cured. Abandoned by her increasingly unhinged husband, Harper has one aim, to survive long enough to bring her baby safely into the world. Her only hope is the Fireman, a mysterious figure who seems to have discovered a way to control the flames of Dragonscale.
This epic novel had me hooked from the powerful and visually unsettling opening sequence: Harper witnesses a person infected with Dragonscale combust into flames before her eyes for the first – but unfortunately not last – time. This horrific spectacle takes place in the most normal of settings, the playground of her school. Something so horrific taking place in an environment associated with childhood and innocence, makes it all the more disturbing.
The Fireman is a detailed and cleverly constructed examination of the human psyche. In a post-apocalyptic world of ‘Cremation Squads’ and mass hysteria, it quickly becomes apparent that Dragonscale is not the only danger to those who are infected. Hill shows that by wanting to feel ‘safe’ people are capable of carrying out terrible atrocities for what is seen as ‘the greater good’. Whilst those who are healthy want to stamp out the sickness, along with anyone who shows signs of having it, to ensure they remain safe, those with Dragonscale are just as capable of turning on others like them if they think it will stave off a threat to their own existence.
As well as an illuminating glimpse into the true capabilities of human nature, The Fireman is a fantastically crafted novel with extraordinarily drawn characters. The evolution of Harper is a delight to witness; she blooms from a somewhat timid wisp who is very much in her husband’s shadow into a fierce woman who will jump (or waddle) over any object that threatens not only her survival but also that of her unborn baby. Whilst the tale very much follows Harper’s journey, the star of the show is title character, the Fireman. The Fireman, also known as John Rookwood, likes mystery, adventure and to be the star of the show. When Harper meets the Fireman, he offers her shelter and community at Camp Wyndham. Once she joins him, however, Harper soon sees through the Fireman’s cocky facade and as she chips away at the carefully crafted layers of his cool bravado we soon see a glimpse of a hurt that makes up John’s core. Some of the most fascinating scenes in the book for me were those that took place between Harper and John. In addition to these exceptional characters, the supporting cast are just as fleshed out and interesting, from teen rebel Allie and her little brother Nick to head of Camp, Father Storey, his daughter Carol and the enigmatic Renee.
The Fireman is a thrilling novel; once I hit the half way mark I just couldn’t put it down until it was finished. Hill has a powerful and vivid style of writing which totally enthralled me whilst at the same time shook me to the core. With an incredibly imaginative concept, superb characters and a compelling voice weaving it all together, The Fireman is storytelling at its finest.