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 an epic scope and huge emotional impact, this is one woman’s story of survival at the end of the world.
I’m a bit of a wuss, all things considered. You won’t often find me in the Horror section of a bookshop, and chances of getting me to watch a horror film at the cinema are slim to none – I think the last one I managed was The Others, and that was a good fifteen or so years ago. I have, however, read some of Joe Hill’s books before, and he’s an author who has always managed to blend elements of horror with humour, warmth, and thrills – so whilst his books often keep me up at night reading, they never leave me too scared to sleep…
The Fireman is certainly a dark tale – a mysterious virus causes people to be covered in a dark scale that, eventually, causes them to burst into flames. With no identified cause and no identified cure, panic rules. When Harper Grayson, a school nurse, becomes inflicted with the scale, she finds herself in an isolated community – all infected with the virus, but all seemingly able to keep it under control. As tensions build within the community, and the virus in Harper flares up, it becomes unclear what or who will combust first. The book is laced with tension – almost every page is taut with the promise of drama, and Hill never disappoints – his cliff-hangers and climaxes are always resolved with a deftness that never fails to paint the next dramatic brushstroke. Page Turner may be a phrase that’s a tad overused these days, but The Fireman is the very definition of one – I actually cancelled plans on a Saturday morning so I could stay in bed and finish this book, so wrapped up had I become with the drama. This isn’t just an epic apocalyptic type saga though – Harper is a strong, human character whom the reader can’t help but empathise with, and the other characters encountered are just as strong, all layered, well built, and the devastation when one (as happens to many) dies, is very much a real thing.
I’ve read that this book is being compared to Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, and whilst I do get the comparison – both are beautiful books set in a post-apocalyptic world, and both explore the humanity of such a situation in a very personal way. However, I found that, for all of the pain and suffering it contains, The Fireman wins for me due to the fact that there is an optimism and hope to the book that I think is oft found in such grim situations. Don’t get me wrong – the hope is challenged and punished every single damn chapter, making the read an exhilarating one, if completely emotionally exhausting – but it’s absolutely worth it in the end. Hill often gets compared to his Father (when you’re the son of Stephen King, I think it’s somewhat unavoidable). For me, The Fireman is a book that easily stands with the best of King’s work – it’s one ridiculously talented family. Huge thanks to the publishers for the copy.