Thursday, August 18, 2016

The Fireman by Joe Hill

(hb; 2016)

From the inside flap:

"No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one. . . The doctors call it Draco incendia trychophyton. To everyone else it's Dragonscale, a highly contagious, dead spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks -- before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.

"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, her 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 now wants to live -- at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers giving birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can stay alive long enough to deliver the child. . ."


Fireman is a too-long novel written by a normally excellent author. Hill has followed in his father, Stephen King's, path and taken a story that could easily be cut to three-quarters of its length and offered up a tale-bloated work that is worth reading if you are a fan of Stephen King's novels It and The Tommyknockers (in terms of length).

The first quarter of this 750-page book is excellent. After that, it starts to go downhill (shortly after Harper moves into Camp Wyndam, a refuge for those with Dragonscale). It is not that Fireman is a bad book, it has a lot of great writing and characterization (too much of the latter, at times) and this melding of humanity-based horror, romance, straining-for-epicness and social/political commentary is noble. That said, i
f you are not a fan of overly emotional characters and drawn-out storylines (I am not big on either), this might be an interesting-but-not-worthwhile experiment that ultimately fails -- and, sadly, one that Hill seems likely to strive for again, scope- and character-wise (if his post-novel notes are any indication).

I have little doubt this will be the basis for a future television/online miniseries or film. Maybe that will play better than this well-intentioned and sometimes well-penned novel.

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