Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Tremain's Book Corner: "The Fireman" by Joe Hill

The Fireman
Place Hold
Author: Joe Hill
Reviewed by: Tremain Jackson, South Branch Manager
Personal Rating: 4 Stars

Book Summary: 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 infested; 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, 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.

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 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.

In a 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.

Personal Review: I simply don't know how else to say how big of a fan I am of Joe Hill and his clever thriller reads.  Let's face it, the son of Stephen King has a lot to live up to, and Hill is not disappointing in the least, especially with his latest novel here.  Now, I will say, I was almost tempted not to read it.  Most of his novels are standard in length, but this book was over 700 pages, and people know I don't like to read long books.  Such was not the case with this one.

With a premise that wasn't derivative, but still had me thinking of King's "Firestarter," I liked the direction the novel took.  One in which you lived your life hoping you wouldn't get the mark, but the second you did, you knew what was coming.  You were going to burst into flames and die...not really the way you want to go out either.  There's no cure...there's no hope...there's only panic and terror ripping its way through society.  Hill has delivered an apocalyptic vision that begins with a spore that is steadily destroying humanity.  I loved it.  I tend to gravitate towards darker novels though.  It gets the blood pumping.

So with all of the devastation, you have your protagonist in Harper.  Let's just say it took a hot minute for me to wrap my brain around her.  She comes across as a Disney character and I was half-expecting to see bluebirds chirping around her head and woodland creatures nestling at her feet.  Not exactly my cup of tea in a world where everyone's bursting into flames, but I stuck with it nonetheless.

As the novel progresses, I was quite pleased with the dystopian-like atmosphere of Hill's world and the looming sense of dread as microscopic spores lays cities to ruin and consumed by blazing infernos.  Society is collapsing as more become infected and vigilantes begin hunting down and killing those with Dragonscale with no fear of punishment...you know, because the looming threat of spontaneously combusting wasn't worrisome enough, you also had to worry about begin hunted like an animal if you showed signs of infection.

Then you get a twist in the plot with the introduction of the Fireman.  A person who, with a community of Dragonscale sufferers, appear to have learned how to keep the infection under control and stop themselves from burning.  Without disclosing much of the plot, and spoiling the story, the author has cleverly weaved a great story in a dystopian read.  Hill effectively chips away at the thin veneer of civilization to show how quickly people can lose their moral compass when threatened by an unforeseeable force.  It causes you to think about what you would do in a similar situation if you were infected or not.  Would you help a stranger in need?  Would you be able to live with yourself if you turned away someone who was sick and dying if that meant that doing so might lead to the death of thousands more?

Hill poses quite a few scenarios that will make the reader confront such questions and lead you down a path where you might feel uncomfortable.  That's exactly what I wanted in this story.

Why didn't I rate the book higher if I liked it so much?  It was the length.  Again, at over 700 pages, even though it went by quickly, I just didn't think this story needed to be told that much.  There are chunks of the story where it's nothing but talking, doesn't add anything to the storyline or character development, and was just filler when there really didn't need to be any.  Secondly, I still couldn't quite get my head around Harper.  Yes, she is a strong woman, character, and fighting to stay alive to protect her unborn child, but her personality was just blah.

But overall, this novel was well-thought out, entertaining, and a strong entry in his arsenal of stories, ranking higher than other favorites by him.  Hill delivered a strong read that kept me entertained from start to finish, a good premise that wasn't too mundane, and suspense that kept me wanting to read to see how it would all play out.

If you're a fan of dystopian reads, sci-fi novels, and suspense, this would be a great book to dive into.  The story is compelling, there are plenty of twists and turns, most of the characters are believable, and it continues to push you until you reach the end.  Even from the synopsis of the book, if only covers a small portion of everything that takes place, but it's enough of a teaser to be able to draw you in.  It's a book you'll need to experience for yourself.

If you haven't read any of Jo Hill's previous novels, you should read those too.  Much like his father, Stephen King, Hill would have to rank in my top 10 list of authors whose books I just HAVE to read.

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