Monday, June 13, 2016
The Fireman by Joe Hill
Joe Hill begins The Fireman by citing J. K. Rowling as an influence on the novel, stating that her "stories showed me how to write this one." Certainly it's not a Harry Potter novel, but I read it like one - I bought it on release day and read it almost all the way through.
I've written about all of Joe Hill's books on this blog before, notably his Locke & Key comics series, and novels Heart-Shaped Box, Horns, and N0S4A2. I also recently picked up and read his short story collection 21st Century Ghosts, and the first story, "Best New Horror," ranks high as one of the most terrifying short stories I've read. I consistently look forward to his new writing.
The Fireman focuses on Harper Grayson, a kind-hearted school nurse who witnesses a new disease - draco incendia trychophyton, or Dragonscale - set a man on fire on school property while she is treating a younger student. It is not an isolated incident - most of the world is going up in flames as people contract Dragonscale at higher and higher rates, and the result is always a type of internal combustion. Eventually, it is Harper's turn to contract the deadly disease while working in a hospital; even though she is zipped into a full body hazmat suit, she can't avoid it forever. When a chain reaction of combusting Dragonscale-infected patients causes the hospital to go up in flames, Harper goes home to her husband to deal with her own case of dragon scale privately, impacted utterly by the fact that she is pregnant.
But Harper's husband Jakob has a disease of his own, and it has nothing to do with dragon scale.
With the help of the Fireman, an elusive man who dresses in a fireman suit and has the ability to control his strain of Dragonscale, Harper gets away from her husband. Harper escapes with the Fireman to Camp Wyndham, a summer camp that is stocked with enough food for the one hundred or so adults and children who have taken refuge there to make it for a few months. Hill largely explores the effects of mob mentality in the tiny camp community, especially when that community feels increasingly threatened by everything that is happening outside of their camp. This includes the rise of cremation crews, groups of non-infected individuals who travel killing and burning those with Dragonscale. Unsurprisingly, Harper's husband has joined this crew.
The Fireman is stuffed full of references to pop culture - they are constant, reminding readers about the world around them. The Fireman is also the first Joe Hill book that has felt like stylistically a Stephen King novel. Like always, I'm already looking forward to the next Hill novel, although I might return to The Fireman with the audiobook version, which, like the N0S4A2 audiobook, is narrated by the fantastic Kate Mulgrew.