Name: The Fireman
Author: Joe Hill
Number of Pages: 768 (Hardback)
Published: 7th June 2016 by Gollancz
Genre: Post Apocaplyse
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. – from Goodreads
The Fireman is a great end of the world tale with an imaginative cause at it’s heart – Dragonscale. It’s a spore which eventually causes the carrier to burst into flame, burning down to ash and taking out life as we know it as they do so. People are afraid, and understandably so, but that doesn’t help, as stress and fear only seem to cause the ‘scale to ignite more rapidly. The world is literally burning.
In this grim scenario we follow Harper Grayson, a nurse who discovers she is pregnant almost at the same time that she discovers the first telltale inky markings on her body that mean she is infected with Dragonscale. To say her husband doesn’t react well to any of this news is an understatement, and I can’t recall the last time I disliked a character so much and so quickly as I did with Jakob Grayson.
Fleeing her home and her increasingly deranged husband, Harper finds the Fireman, and a group of survivors who have apparently learned to control the Dragonscale. She goes to Camp Wyndham, a supposedly safe haven for those afflicted with the spore.
CampWyndham harbours all manner of characters, some good, some not so good, and the story follows the group dynamics and power plays amongst this relatively small group of people drawn together at an awful time. The increasing paranoia of some of the members, the lengths they go to to establish control, and the group mentality that allows certain things to happen makes for great and sometimes claustrophobic reading.
Needless to say, in the end the ‘perfect’ sanctuary starts to fall apart from within, and with Harper ever nearer to giving birth, it becomes apparent Camp Wyndham may not be her long-time home. Fear and suspicion drive the group to break into factions, and that’s not the only threat to their safety.
There are some great characters in this book, and the Dragonscale itself becomes something more than just the spore that will end humanity as we meet the Fireman, who has apparently mastered control of the fire that could burn him alive at any moment. He has some impressive tricks thanks to the ‘scale, and is the first to admit he loves to be the centre of attention, so expect fireworks.
Nick and Allie are the Fireman’s accomplices when he first meets Harper, and I liked both of them, especially young Nick, the deaf boy who becomes a good friend to Harper.
On the side of the villains is Harper’s husband Jakob. It must be a sign of good writing that I loathed him within a very few pages of his appearance. Then there’s the Marlboro Man, who takes great delight and pleasure in hunting down people affected with Dragonscale, whom he calls ‘burners’.
Others fall into a more grey area, such as Carol Storey and Ben Patchett, two of the main players at Camp Wyndham.
This is the first Joe Hill I’ve ever read, and I would definitely seek out other stories by this author, and look out for future releases.