The Fireman by Joe Hill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I finally got around to picking this up along with my friend, Shannon, for a buddy read.
Considering everything the world has been through over the course of the past year, it was an excellent choice. We certainly had a lot to discuss!
Following a group of characters, after a worldwide pandemic decimates the population, The Fireman is a chilling example of society stripped bare of its conventions.
The plague itself is spread by a highly contagious spore, physically representing itself on the human body as scaly skin discolorations and sores that come to be known as, Dragonscale.
Obviously, in my head I pictured, Greyscale, from Game of Thrones.
The most interesting aspect of this disease is the cause of death: spontaneous combustion.
Fires are erupting everywhere. There’s no advanced warning. Anyone could blow at any time. There’s no cure. Can you imagine the stress!?
Harper Grayson is a nurse in New Hampshire, who continues working long after the plague begins, in spite of great personal risk to herself.
As many other frontline workers, she feels compelled to help people as long as she can. Unfortunately, her husband Jakob isn’t crazy about her choice.
The couple make a pact, that if they become infected, they’ll take matters into their own hands. They’ll decide when they die, but when Harper finds signs on her skin that she has contracted the disease, she doesn’t want to follow through with it. She wants to live.
She’s pregnant and believes she can give her baby a fighting chance. In the hospital, she watched infected mothers give birth to healthy babies. She knows it’s possible.
When Harper expresses this to Jakob, he loses it. He comes completely unhinged, revealing a side to himself he previously kept hidden.
He believes Harper has gotten him sick, even though he has no symptoms yet. Jakob turns on her, blaming her for everything and ends up abandoning her.
With vigilantes, known as Cremation Squads, out hunting those infected with Dragonscale, Harper knows it is unsafe for her to stay alone.
Luckily, she is approached by some friendly infecteds, who offer her a place to stay within their survivor’s camp.
I found this to be an incredibly riveting story. To me, it feels sort of like The Stand-2.0. I did notice a few nods to that classic; my favorite book of all time.
The Stand was written in the late-1970s; The Fireman was published in 2016. A lot has changed in our society since then, but simultaneously, not much has changed at all.
As the rules and norms of society are broken down, people are returned to their more primal instincts in order to survive. It’s interesting to think about how people would arrange and conduct themselves following an apocalyptic event.
While this wasn’t as impactful or compelling for me as The Stand is, I still think it is a great post-apocalyptic story. Hill definitely has a narrative style that keeps me engaged and wanting more.
I also appreciated how layered this story was. You could deep dive into it and analyze so many different aspects.
Shannon noticed a lot of feminist themes woven throughout and that definitely fueled some of our more vibrant discussions.
Overall, I had a really good time reading this and do recommend it to those who enjoy a long-form, post-apocalyptic story!
I’m really looking forward to seeing what Hill comes up with next. He’s definitely an autobuy author for me.
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