Excerpt from THE FIREMAN Synopsis:
From the award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of NOS4A2 and Heart-Shaped Box comes a chilling novel about a worldwide pandemic of spontaneous combustion that threatens to reduce civilization to ashes and a band of improbable heroes who battle to save it, led by one powerful and enigmatic man known as the Fireman.
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
Note: I received an advance reviewer copy of this book from HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.
By now, most of us are familiar with the dark fiction of author Joe Hill. His career started out strong with the short fiction collection, 20th CENTURY GHOSTS, followed a few years later by his debut novel, HEART-SHAPED BOX. He has since penned the novels HORNS and NOS4A2 with each book growing in scope and vision and building on the success of it’s predecessors. With THE FIREMAN he continues that trend with a much wider focus than his previous works and, while it remains to be seen whether it will outdo the massive success of NOS4A2, it’s a much more ambitious undertaking that may well be his best work to date.
One of the things that hits you right away as you read THE FIREMAN is the fascinating disease Hill has created for the story. The Dragonscale, as it is known, causes it’s host to spontaneously burst into flame under conditions of extreme stress. But as you get farther into the story, it becomes increasingly more intriguing as you discover new things about it, including the method in which the disease is transmitted and some other unique aspects that won’t be revealed here because of spoilers. Joe Hill very obviously did a ton of research for this book and it benefits greatly for it. While it may sound fantastical, the Dragonscale is a well thought out, well conceived disease with a lot of original aspects to it that make this different and much more than your average apocalypse story.
The other thing that will strike you, the thing that really makes this story and all of Hill’s other work really shine, is outstanding characterization. Harper, the young pregnant woman infected with Dragonscale and determined to survive long enough to give birth to her child, has a fully realized backstory that makes her both sympathetic and likable. And she’s not alone in this. All the characters in the book, large and small, have fully developed backstories and are fully rooted in the story, the Fireman, John Rookwood in particular. John is a classic tragic figure, both wondrous and immensely flawed and easily the most lovable character in the book. His easy sense of humor and caustic wit hide a deep and emotional well of a person beneath them, a beautifully broken individual who’s story is both uplifting and heartbreaking.
Yet another exceptionally appealing aspect of the story are the character interactions. The picture perfect, motion driven dialogue is both natural and quirky, the characters eccentric and refreshingly realistic in spite of–or because of–those eccentricities. It’s a mesh of these character conversations intertwined with a tense, suspenseful narrative and often brutal and vivid action scenes that drive the story forward at a breakneck pace, keeping the reader glued to the page in anticipation of the startling reveals waiting around every corner.
The only real flaw to this book–and your mileage may vary–is in it’s length. It could stand to lose a few pounds, say 75 – 100 pages, and it would probably be better for it. That said, in spite of it’s almost 800 pages it reads as fast as a book half it’s length. Hill’s prose is always lucid, engaging and entertaining and he has a knack for keeping the reader’s interest through the most mundane of exposition and the length of the story does nothing to take away from the overall enjoyment of the tale. Joe Hill is a master craftsman, one that grows with each successive publication and he’s showing no signs of letting up anytime soon. THE FIREMAN is a nearly flawless, captivating narrative that holds you prisoner from cover to cover and doesn’t let up until the final, breathtaking chapter comes to a close.