The Fireman by Joe Hill

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Joe Hill is one of those authors that is on my auto-read list. I’ll grab his books as soon as they’re available, because they’re usually terribly creepy and delightfully engrossing. His newest, The Fireman, is good – but it didn’t quite hit that high mark for me. 

All across the world, people are burning. They’re breaking out in beautiful black and gold swirls on their skin, but eventually bursting into flame, causing fires and panic everywhere. Civilization is falling apart, but Harper continues to work as a nurse at the local hospital, helping whoever she can. Eventually, she breaks out in the Dragonscale as well, and her husband reminds her that they promised they would end it if it came to that, rather than burn alive. But Harper is pregnant now, and believes she can give birth to a healthy baby, so she’s not ready to give up. Her husband loses his damn mind and Harper’s life is in danger, until she’s saved by a man in a fireman’s suit who brings her to a camp where the infected are living in hiding.

I enjoyed most of the book – the drama that ensues at Camp Wyndham is crazy, and the Dragonscale and how it operates is a really fascinating concept. It’s a good book to sink into for a few hours at a time, and the pacing sped up in the last third of the book and I stayed up extra late to finish.

But overall… it was a bit of a mess. I feel like it could’ve been edited down more, because there was a lot of long, drawn-out drama between the characters at the camp and it felt like there were long stretches where nothing was really happening. Harper is the main character, and she generally was calm, assertive, and sickeningly sweet like Mary Poppins. (Literally, she was constantly invoking Mary Poppins as her idol.) But every now and then she’d casually refer to “fucking” or otherwise just be generally crude and it seemed really out of character for her personality and demeanor. She never felt like a real person. And I feel most of the female secondary characters suffered in that they were either sugary sweet and noble and self-sacrificing, or bat-shit crazy and destructive. 

Anyways, Harper is the main character of the book. Despite being the title character, The Fireman (AKA John Rookwood) is hardly around, and I feel like this would have been so much more better written if he was also the MC. He plays an important role, sure, but I was really expecting and hoping for him to be in it more because he is actually the most intriguing.

Lastly, I think the biggest disappointment for me was the lack of the creep factor. I’m used to Joe Hill’s books being really bizarre and creepy. This was less bizarre, and the creepiest part was the people – how cult-like some at the camp acted, and how unhinged and murderous the healthy population became. Nothing like a good ol’ post-apocalyptic book to remind you that people are kind of the worst, but that’s not really what I was looking forward to getting here.

If you’re a Joe Hill fan, you’ll want to read The Fireman because it is interesting and I can see some potential in future stories based on these characters or this setting. But if you’re new to Joe Hill, skip this chunkster and start with Horns, then come back around after you’ve experienced his backlist.

~Sarah

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4 comments

  1. I skimmed this a bit cos I am reading this right now so trying to avoid spoilers BUT I shall come back to this when finished (but man I did not realize how long this was when I began so may take some time). But some of what I saw here I agree with, like Harper’s random cursing seems to come out of the blue. As do a couple characters’ (SO FAR) outbursts about how selfish people who are helpful are, cos those seem to be a complete 180 of what we’ve previously seen. OK that was rambly so sorry about that. I shall (prob) be back with more rambles when I finish

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    1. It was very hard to verbalize what the hell I was trying to say about Harper, lol. I actually know women who seem kind of proper and then it’s a surprise when they get vulgar, and that’s okay. But it just seemed so unnatural with Harper, I don’t know why.

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