The Fireman by Joe Hill is epic, end of the world tale of hope and survival. Joe Hill is becoming an author to be reckoned with. The Fireman is a book whose scope is immense and grand, yet still resonates with the intimate space of the humanity factor. Yet the very things that make it such a good read are those things that are its greatest weakness.
“…Harper Grayson had seen lots of people burn on TV, everyone had, but the first person she saw burn for real was in the playground behind the school…”
A new disease is taking over the world. It is incredibly contagious and is spreading unchecked. It is called Dragonscale, marking its victims with black and gold tracks over their bodies. Dragonscale kills its victims by spontaneous combustion. They literally will burst into flames. No one seems to know how it came to be, the doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton, but to the rest of the world it is known as Dragonscale and it is destroying civilization.
The infected go into hiding, searched out by both the government and the people who fear them. But there is no cure, no way of hiding the disease and the streaks of black and gold give them away.
Harper Grayson is a nurse, spending her days with the diseased. She is covered head to toe to protect herself but it is not enough. Soon she finds the signs of Dragonscale on her body. When the pandemic first hit, Harper and her husband Jakob made a pact, that should they ever become diseased, they would kill themselves before they allowed Dragonscale to run its course. Only now Harper cannot do that, not to herself or the baby she carries. But Jakob doesn’t agree and as Harper flees for her life, an enigmatic savior steps in. Someone who is infected, someone who has learned how to control the Dragonscale.
The Fireman takes the infected, now persecuted and hunted by the rest of humanity, to a safe haven hidden from the world. Now he carries Harper away. But even in a place of sanctuary there is danger and soon the Fireman and Harper must fight to survive from both the hate of the outside world and the fear and paranoia of those they live among. All while the Dragonscale itself breathes just beneath their skin.
Joe Hill writes really, really well. You can see the growth in his work from Heart-shaped Box to NOS4A2, but as his books get longer in size and scope, they have a tendancy to lose momentum. There are great passages in this story where we detour off the tale into a side tale that does nothing overall for the main tale. They are filler and are not needed. This is a good story, could have been a really great story that could have been one of those books that stand along with The Stand and Swan Song had it simply stayed on track. There are hundreds of pages where the Fireman doesn’t even put in an appearance. Instead we are treated to Harper and her fears and dreams and angst. She is a great character. But the glimpses of what the past was for the Fireman and how important it turns out to be in the end, you feel as if you missed out.
The concept of Dragonscale is genius. Literally creating a hell on earth as humanity burns up.
This is a good book, might have been a great book if the editor, had you know, edited.