3.5 stars out of 5.
Nobody knew where the virus came from.
FOX News said it had been set loose by ISIS, using spores that had been invented by the Russians in the 1980s.
MSNBC said sources indicated it might’ve been created by engineers at Halliburton and stolen by culty Christian types fixated on the Book of Revelation.
CNN reported both sides.
While every TV station debated the cause, the world burnt.
Pregnant school nurse, HARPER GRAYSON, had seen lots of people burn on TV, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground behind the school.
With the epic scope of THE PASSAGE and the emotional impact of THE ROAD, this is one woman’s story of survival at the end of the world.
Warning: While I generally write spoiler free reviews, this review includes small spoilers as they were the only way I could get my thoughts across.
The Fireman isn’t a post apocalyptic tale set after the world has ended it’s an apocalyptic tale set as the world ends due to Draco incendia trychophyton or Dragonscale and focuses on a core group of characters who for most of the story take refuge in Camp Wyndham as they fight for survival.
On a whole the book is well written. Hill brings the characters to life and the story grips you……..but I was expecting more and while I enjoyed my time reading The Fireman, I never became fully engrossed and captivated by the book unlike I have while reading other notable books from the same genre. Unfortunately for me, the characters never completely pulled me into their story and I didn’t really care about their fates. Hill also has a tendency to end chapters with statements, it’s OK some of the time but throughout the book he does it quite often and by the end it does get slightly annoying as it spoils the following chapter before you’ve even read it as you already know what’s going to happen next. An example wouldbe:
“Enough of this,” he said and nodded at the door. “You have to go. Keep your head down and hurry right back to the infirmary. We’ll figure it out later. There’ll be another night for this.” But there never was.
If we take that scene, my main grievance is, while the main story is still to be told and the cause revealed the actual chapter and that part of the story is already spoiled as you now know your going to be reading about why there wasn’t another night and know that there is in fact not another night whereas it would have been better if Hill allowed you to find this out for yourself as the reader. As this happens quite often during the book it somewhat takes away the suspense.
Another thing I found trying about the book was Harper herself, on a whole she’s a decent main character and focal point for the story and she is likeable but to me she was also very changeable and she seemed to change on a whim doing things out of character when Hill needed her to, simply to move the story forward. Though it was nice to see her transformation from being meek into a far more tenacious character as the book progressed. The rest of the core cast of characters are generally all well written and individual enough that they have their own separate personalities and flaws though some of the time they do seem rather stereotypical and the minor characters are never really brought to life. Allie the tenacious teenager with her brash ways and language was one of my favourites, her interplay with The Fireman and others often makes you smile. I also liked Renee Gilmonton a kindly near 50 year old black woman and I thought the shout out to Daddy King’s The Stand as it also has a deaf character named Nick (Baby King’s The Fireman does to) was great, I don’t know if it was intentional or not but it’s a nice homage.
The Fireman of the title is himself an enigmatic but tortured soul. The use of popular culture references in the book is great. Using famous faces and character masks instead of generic zombie/clown or black ski-masks to hide the characters identities is a really nice touch, as while the characters are trying to remain anonymous we get special guest appearances from Captain America, Tony the Tiger and even Tyrion Lannister! There’s a couple of celebrity cameos thrown into the mix to, again it’s only a small thing but with today’s society being how it is and being so infatuated with famous people and their lives it’s another nice addition. The dragonscale is a really good idea, it’s inventive and unique and is one of the stand out pieces in the book, with it Hill crafted an ingenious contagion that seems sentient. He also invokes decent imagery of a bleak world gone up in flame, ruined by the dragonscale with the worst of human nature being on show, the healthy massacring the infected though late on we do get to see some small gestures of kindness showing that not everyone loses their humanity as the world ends.
Hill’s world building is highly detailed and descriptive bringing to life the burning wreckage of the destroyed world, however I found it to be detrimental to the character development and I would have liked Hill to have achieved a better balance between the two. As I mentioned earlier the core characters are developed and we get to learn their back stories but the minor ones aren’t and are predominantly left on the fringe and in the shadows. The camp is supposed to contain around 160 people yet it never feels like it does as apart from the core group the rest of the camp followers remain both nameless and faceless. As they all live in the camp together and we’re supposed to care about the fate of the camp and it’s occupants, I was left with a question, how can you care about the fate of characters and camp when you don’t get to know them?
The pacing of The Fireman for the majority is adequate and while the story moves along at a fairly slow pace most of the time it’s interesting though I’d have liked to have seen the book be slightly more dramatic in places and less meandering. I did think that the book started off strongest at the beginning, the middle dragged and seemed to plod along and then the ending seemed rather rushed and abrupt. There was also a few times in the book where you knew what was going to happen next and other times where the plot and camp life in particular seemed overly complicated when simplicity may have served the story better. Personally I saw the twist at the end coming quite a while before it happened but others out there may not and will be genuinely surprised by it.
A few reviews I’ve read said the book was slow in the middle and that it could have done with a hundred or so pages being taken off the complete length of the book. I’m not sure I’d agree with that as while I agree that parts in the middle could have been cut I actually wanted extra story adding into the book so I wouldn’t have cut any pages merely changed them. Harper’s husband Jakob is one of the villains and ends up being part of The Marlboro Man’s collection crew (they’re groups of uninfected who go around searching for and killing people infected with dragonscale). I’d have liked to have seen more of them in the book, especially Jakob as while the group of infected are hiding in Camp Wyndham, trying to stay alive and safe namely from the collection crews amongst other internal conflicts and strife.
The crew themselves for large parts of the book are kept very much in the background to the goings on in camp and seem like an afterthought until Hill decides the story needs the action ramping up and then ‘stage left enter’ come in the crew and villains doing their part. You don’t need spoilers to foretell that there’s going to be the inevitable showdown and reckoning between the camp and the crew, you just know it’s going to happen and it’s used to progress the story onwards to its next part. While I wouldn’t have wanted to have read chapter after chapter of the crew finding and killing infected, the occasional sporadic chapter would have added an extra element and dimension into the story especially with Jakob being Harper’s husband. I feel the odd chapter (there’s a lot of chapters in the book with some only being a page in length) focusing on him especially, searching for her, perhaps with finding clues and having near misses to her whereabouts and the camps would have been beneficial to the story. Maybe it’s just me and I like reading about villains and the bad guys but it could have been a good counterpoint to the goings on in camp, especially during the slower times, a short chapter interspersed between camp life showing Jakob was still fixated on finding Harper and The Fireman’s location to show he was still a real threat. But I guess The Fireman isn’t a tale of good vs evil it’s a story of survival and at the core it isn’t even the Fireman’s tale it’s Harper’s.
There’s been alot of hype surrounding the release of this book and I think I got caught up in it as I was expecting a masterpiece. I had hoped that The Fireman was going to be a rip-roaring blaze of a book but the plight of the characters never really gripped me and by the end the flame had been doused and somewhat guttered out. This was my first foray into reading Joe Hill, he is a talented writer who can weave an enjoyable tale and I’ll definitely consider reading any future releases from him or even any of his past releases depending on the ever growing TBR list I currently have.
When I finish my reviews I usually write ‘recommended’ at the end if I would recommend you read the book, but this time that depends on you my fellow reader! Yes, if you are fans of the genre and have read The Stand, Swan Song and The Passage amongst others then I would say to you, go on, read The Fireman as while it maybe flawed it is still a decent and entertaining book that you will enjoy spending your time reading. However…..if you haven’t read any of the three aforementioned books then choose one of them to read instead as overall they are of a far higher standard and will take you on a much more fulfilling and emotional journey.