banner ad
banner ad
banner ad

BOOK REVIEW: The Fireman by Joe Hill

| 16 May 2016 | 1 Reply

BOOK REVIEW: The Fireman by Joe Hill 

Orion Books
May 2016
Paperback, $29.99
Reviewed by Steph O’Connell

Speculative Fiction



FOX said the dragon had been set loose by ISIS, using spores that had been invented by the Russians in the 1980s. MSNBC said sources indicated the ‘scale might’ve been created by engineers at Halliburton and stolen by culty Christian types fixated on the Book of Revelation. CNN reported both.
All through the month of May, there were roundtable discussions on every channel, in between live reports from places that were in flames.
Then Glenn Beck burned to death on his internet program, right in front of his chalkboard, burned so hot his glasses fused to his face, and after that most of the news was less about who did it, and more about how not to catch it.

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.

None of them knew it, but Miss Pym would be the first person from school to die. She was twenty-nine, willowy and pretty and nervous, and lived alone with three Pembroke Cogis, which she called her babies. In May, Miss Pym would burn to death in her bathtub, with the shower running – presumably she was trying to put herself out. Her corpse was not discovered for two days. The shower never stopped spraying her with ice cold water. The dogs got hungry and tore baked strips of flesh off the body. Her babies had managed to skin most of her left rib cage by the time she was found. The cops shot all three.

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.

The smell followed Harper into sleep, where every night she dreamt of campfires on the beach, roasting hot dogs with her brother Connor. Sometimes it would turn out there were charring heads on the ends of their sticks instead of weiners. Occasionally, Harper woke shouting. Other times she woke to the sound of someone else crying out.

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.

She had seen at least a hundred people with Dragonscale ignite – ignite and begin to scream, blue fire racing over them, as if they were painted in kerosene, their hair erupting in a flash. It was not something anyone wanted or could do to themselves and when it happened it was not controlled and it always ended in death.

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.



There’s no doubt that Joe Hill has inherited his writing ability from his father, Stephen King, and anyone who has read his previous books will be quick  to tell you how engaging and interesting his stories are. This one had the potential to be mind-blowing, but sadly fell a little short for this reader.

The premise of a post-apocalyptic world in which the epidemic is essentially spontaneous human combustion is a terrifying and fascinating one, and in the opening chapters it felt like this might live up to that potential. But then it veered off on a different course, and the whole thing got tangled up in a lot of killing time, with long stretches of nothing much in between the heart-racing events.

The Fireman was a fun read, and the 700+ pages did tick by rather quickly, without the reluctance to keep going that I have encountered with some books half the size, but it still felt like it could have done with a bit of a trim and would have benefited from more character development. As it was, most of the characters felt a little shallow and stereotypical, with motives that were unclear to this reader. Being an obsessive fan of Julie Andrews does not, I’m sad to say, a well-rounded character make, and yet it felt like this was one of the more solid chunks in Harper’s foundation.


Harper sings to keep people’s spirits up(songs from Mary Poppins and Pete’s Dragon); is more calm under pressure than the rest of the time; is submissive to a fault(though she does occasionally show some rebellion as the story goes on), thanks to that charmer of a husband of hers; and has this routine involving a radish, a potato, and candy bars that she uses for the most direly affected patients who need a little cheering up. There’s really not anything more to her.

The titular Fireman is British, a loner, has a secret, and isn’t even present for maybe half of the novel, and even towards the end the narrative refers to him as “The Fireman” when Harper knows his name and has grown as close as is possible with a loner who has a secret and isn’t around much.

Jakob is probably the most fleshed out character in this novel, which is sad to say, given he’s the guy who hates his wife, has written a novel detailing all of his extra-marital sexual exploits and pointing out how very witty he is, and has joined a cremation crew to kill people in droves. Okay, he’s not particularly fleshed out, either, but he evoked the strongest emotional response for this reader; vitriol.

The other characters don’t warrant much of a mention at all.


It’s the same old story: world goes to hell, people lose their minds and start killing each other, others group together, and there’s usually some kind of fanaticism involved on one or both sides. With the exception of the nature of the spore itself, there was nothing much in this book that was new. The characters were pieced together from other places but never fully formed. Even the twists were nothing particularly new, though they were disguised somewhat.

But, despite all of these things, it was a fun and engrossing read, and the pages did fly by.

If you like your apocalypse fiction or you’re a fan of Joe Hill, I’d definitely recommend giving it a read. Just don’t go in expecting it to change the genre. The epidemic is different, but the song remains pretty much the same.





Category: Book Reviews, Other Reviews

About the Author ()

Comments (1)

Trackback URL | Comments RSS Feed

Sites That Link to this Post

  1. BOOK REVIEW: Defender by G.X. Todd | 100% ROCK MAGAZINE | 14 January 2017

Leave a Reply

Please verify you\'re a real person: * Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

banner ad
banner ad