Tuesday, December 06, 2016

The Fireman - Joe Hill

Sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Publisher: Gollancz

Copyright: Joe Hill, 2016

ISBN: 9780575130715

Format: Hardback, 752pp

Genre: Horror/Fantasy/Thriller, Post Apocalypse.

Rating: 5/5

Summed up in a few words
Incendiary. Alternative. Hair Raising. Hooking.

First Impressions
I am a serious Joe Hill fan, so when this was released I was itching to get my hands on it. I have read all of JH's novels and each has been drastically different and enthralling in their own unique way. JH's work covers a vast range of genres, tones, formats and styles. The Fireman was no disappointment, I genuinely didn't want it to end, if you have read Hill's work before and enjoyed it then you will most likely get on with The Fireman as well. The Fireman is an apocalyptic tale, with darkness, humour, unforgettable imagery and an absolute ton of fire.

Book Synopsis
The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. But everyone knows it as Dragonscale, an incurable spore that kills its host through spontaneous
combustion. A million people have it. There's a fire on every street corner; hospitals have become funeral pyres. Civilization is disappearing fast into the smoke.

Sunny, unflappable Harper Grayson is newly pregnant when she comes up marked and sure to burn. But her baby might be born uninfected... if she can live long enough to deliver.

Abandoned by her increasingly unhinged husband, hunted by the Cremation Squads, Harper hears a fantastic rumour: the story of The Fireman. He strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who may have learned to control the flames. In the desperate season to come, Harper will take any risk to find him and learn his secrets - before what's left of the world goes up in smoke.

My Thoughts
Joe Hill has the ability to craft huge, bold plot lines and populate them with the most distinctive, entrancing and lovable/hateable characters! The Fireman is one wild ride, my heart was in my throat and my fist was in the air. This is not your average end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it novel, it is a refreshing take on a popular scenario in which illness does not engineer the end of humanity but enhances it to a whole new level. I am sorry if this review goes on for too long... it is a huge piece at 751 pages and there is so much to talk about... I will do my best to keep it short and sweet.

Harper Grayson was a teacher, until the spore Draco Incendia Trychophyton or more commonly known as Dragonscale begins to take over humanity, inflicting us with a black/gold scales and the tendency to spontaneously combust when the illness eventually takes over the host entirely. Everyone is panicking, society collapses into two factions, the ill and the healthy. At first, life for those with Dragonscale is manageable, they are treated in hospitals and studied to help find a cure, but when more and more people keep exploding into balls of fire, those who are still healthy need to protect what is left by any means necessary.

Harper is desperate to help. She is a trained nurse and volunteers immediately to help the ill. Harper is there for every step of the chaos, trying to protect the patients and understand the illness but events eventually get beyond control and everything collapses. Those with Dragonscale are hunted and imprisoned or killed. In the middle of all this destruction and suffering, Harper and her husband Jacob find out that they are having a baby. 

Almost immediately after finding out the news, Harper discovers the trademark tattoo like markings that signal the onset of Dragonscale. Scared but determined to have bring her baby into the world before she perishes, she needs to learn how to survive. Harper has heard a story about a fireman who has figured out how to live with the spore and actually control/concentrate its effects. She is going to need his help if there is any chance of making it to her due date.

Unlucky for her, Jacob makes the decision to end both of their lives to escape the diseased and corrupted world they now populate. She manages to escape Jacob with the fireman's help and he takes her to a secret community who have all integrated themselves with the Dragonscale and believe that the spore is a blessing. 

Harper is relieved to be safe, the baby is top priority now and she needs all the help she can get. Unfortunately, not everyone is in the same mindset with the lack of food, control and guidance warping people's behaviour and sanity, is Harper really safer at Camp Wyndham?

As I said before, Joe Hill has so much craftsmanship when it comes to building a story from the ground up. The Fireman is quite large, at 751 pages, but not a single word was wasted and every step of the story is relevant, well developed, unique to the story, crazy, insane and nail-bitingly cringe-worthy at times. The Fireman wins the award for the most insane ultimatum ever put to a fictional character! (I can't explain, you must read it to believe it!)

The book is divided into 9 acts, each at a different stage of the infection. To me it is unique in the fact that it almost turns the apocalyptic scenario on it's head and makes the ill more powerful than the healthy (though they are barely given the chance to understand what is happening to themselves). Each act of the book is distinctly different to the next, I found myself anxious, entertained, amused, scared, astonished, amazed, impressed and out-right sick to my stomach throughout the duration of the book. Joe Hill's writing is all about the experience, it is immersive, to the point that when it ended, I was upset because I wanted more of it. 

The Fireman is evenly split between plot and characters. The plot is more important in the beginning/final acts and the characters really come into play at the core of the book. I enjoyed Harper as a main character, constantly under pressure but always thriving or standing up for herself. The 'standout character' spot for me was a tie between little Nick and the fireman himself, both strong, influential characters, though the fireman is immediately awesome where as Nick eventually comes into his own.

Harper has to navigate so many conflicts, confrontations and complications in the story and by the end I was fully invested. There is various tones/atmospheres spread out in the book that change/evolves as the tides turn between each act, from fear, safety, panic, power, fire and brimstone to unconditional love. I felt there was three important themes in the book, the protective love of a mother, overcoming illness/acceptance and self control. Last but not least, people who read this blog may be aware how much I love complex imagery in books and The Fireman has some of the best that I have experienced this year. Flaming symbols, uncontrollable husbands, militia/vigilantes and religion.

Personally I think that The Fireman is my favourite Joe Hill novel to date, closely followed by NOS4R2. If you have not picked up one of his novels then I highly suggest them all. Overall, The Fireman was a vivid, complex and enjoyable piece with some tough content and outstanding imagery that is worth reading and deserves a place on any horror/fantasy/apocalyptic fan's bookshelf. 

Pick up The Fireman here Amazon UK/Amazon US/Goodreads

Author Bio
Joe Hill is a recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship and the winner of the A.E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize, William Crawford, World Fantasy, British Fantasy, Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild Awards. His short fiction has appeared in literary, mystery and horror collections and magazines in Britain and America. (Official Bio)

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