Review: The Fireman by Joe Hill

We’re huge fans of Joe Hill’s new book The Fireman. With echoes of Justin Cronin’s The Passage, M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All the Gifts, and Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, it’s an epic unlike any we’ve seen this year, and definitely a must-read. Here’s what the team’s had to say:

Jon’s Review

9780575130722 (1)I am a sucker for a good end of the world novel but in recent years as there have been more and more of these stories published there have been less and less of them that have grabbed me. Justin Cronin’s The Passage totally blew me away (although the sequel did not have the same kick to it) and M. R. Carey’s The Girl With All The Gifts was so original and thought-provoking in its mind-bendiness  and rule-bendiness I think I loved it even more that The Passage. But nothing has quite gripped the same way in this genre until now.

The Fireman takes everything that was epic about The Passage, combines it with all the thought-provoking elements of The Girl With All The Gifts and then goes to a whole new level. Joe Hill has written an end of the world novel that is grand, heroic and mind-blowing but at the same time deeply personal. It is a story of survival in all its immediacy and in all its elements. It is a 600+ page page-turner that you will not want to put down (or end) and will have you enthralled the entire time you are reading it.

As with most books in this genre it tells the story of a virus that threatens to wipe out humanity. But this is not a virus that turns people into zombies or vampires or some other form of mindless killing machines. It is a virus that make people catch fire. The story is told from the point of view of Harper Grayson, a school nurse. We witness the world slowly fall apart as the virus quickly spreads and the world reacts to its consequences. As a trained nurse Harper quickly volunteers to help those infected but as the world turns from bad to worse Harper’s focus is forced to change from trying to help others to fighting for her own survival and that of her unborn child. After becoming infected herself Harper must flee her old life including her husband. Aided but an almost mythical figure known as The Fireman, Harper discovers there may be hope for a new world, the only thing standing in the way is humanity itself.

I have never read Joe Hill before but fell instantly in love with his writing style. Hill captures the undying sense for survival amongst whatever ruins and tragedy is thrown at his heroes blending humour and horror, triumphs and tragedies in pitch perfect amounts depending on what he is trying to generate at different moments in the story. The virus and its nature is also explained as those who begin to survive work out different ways to appease it or even control it.

Joe Hill has written that rare novel that is clever, emotional and addictive. From the novel’s opening to its gripping finale Hill doesn’t miss a beat and I could easily turn around and pick this up from the beginning and start again right now. It will keep you guessing as the roller coaster ride careens up and down, fast and slow and around blind corners to an ending that is worthy of every page, every word that came before it. I haven’t ever read Stephen King before but you get a real sense the mantle is being passed on to the son with this novel. It is a truly special book that I hope is going to do big things. I can’t recommend this brilliant novel enough.

Simon’s Review

Cormac McCarthy’s literary masterpiece The Road presents a hopeless, post-apocalyptic world navigated by an adult and a child. The specifics of the extinction event are not clarified. It doesn’t matter why society crumbled, just that it has, because all that matters for its populace now is survival. The Road is a novel about the repercussions of the unspecified catastrophe that decimated society; decidedly post-crisis. Joe Hill’s The Fireman takes a different route, set at the very beginning of society’s decline, as the Dragonscale pandemic seizes hold, drawing patterns on people’s skin and eventually literally igniting them, causing them to spontaneously combust. Whereas the characters in The Road are surrounded by nothing but absolute despair, in The Fireman trappings of pre-pandemic lives still exist; tangible reminders of what once was. Both worlds are perpetually dangerous and unpredictable. And both novels are hallmarks of the narrative malleability of the post-apocalyptic concept.

Though operatic in scope, The Fireman is centred firmly around Harper Grayson, a school nurse who becomes a volunteer at her local hospital when society starts to decay, and school becomes a thing of the past. When Harper discovers she, too, is infected by Dragonscale — and pregnant! — she vows to bring her baby safely into the world. Her husband Jakob has other ideas, disgusted by the mere thought of bringing another human into a world such as this, and attacks Harper, determined to abort her life and their child’s. During her escape she encounters John Rockwood — the near-mythical figure known as The Fireman — who welcomes her into a secluded camp of infected survivors, who have learned to control their infection. Jakob, meanwhile, joins the Cremation Crews; marauders who kill the infected on sight. Thus, the board is set, the terrain unknown. Husband and wife are destined to meet again; the question is, in what circumstances?

Survival in a Dragonscale-infected world is unglamorous, and Joe Hill doesn’t pull any punches as he exposes readers to the bleak reality of a world beginning its rapid spiral. He showcases a warped evangelical religion based on ‘the bright’ – an aftereffect of the Dragonscale infection – and demonstrates, as these types of stories so often do, that man’s greatest threat to its own survival is itself rather than the wider crisis. The characters that populate these pages are diverse and vibrant, with distinct follies and histories. Harper is an empathetic heroine, far stronger than we (and she) first realise; desperately clinging onto survival against all odds, as everything she’s ever known degenerates. The Fireman is a mammoth tome: to work, it needs a superior protagonist, and Hill has granted his readers a supremely memorable one.

The Fireman is Joe Hill’s most ambitious novel yet, and will inevitably be compared to his father’s seminal work. The thing is, these comparisons are warranted. Hill’s latest novel is indeed reminiscent of Stephen King’s greatest work – but never derivative. Like King, Hill is a master storyteller – it’s in his blood, clearly – and this novel elevates him into a new literary stratosphere. It has been a long, long time since I was last able to lose myself in an epic like this.



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