It’s hard to be unique; to find a voice that stands out in an over-saturated market, especially when one writes in genres like horror and fantasy. Joe Hill, however, has established a narrative voice that is poignant and entertaining in his new novel, The Fireman. The novel is an epic conglomeration of genres—incorporating aspects of a medical thriller, sprinkled with fantasy, horror, and even a little romance. In creating this swirling mix of genres, Hill tells a tale of human experience. He shows through his depictions of human interaction in the face of catastrophe that the human experience is one of suffering, regret, learning, and triumph.
The major catalyst in the novel is an outbreak of a fatal infection, called Dragonscale, which causes the afflicted to spontaneously combust. No one understands the outbreak, so it is met with swift and violent public outcry. The afflicted are placed into quarantine. As the novel progresses, society’s reactions become more and more brutal. It is how the protagonist, Harper, survives society’s knee-jerk reaction to the outbreak that drives the reader’s emotional engagement throughout this 700-page epic.
Harper, a school nurse prior to the outbreak, is driven by the need to help her community understand and survive the outbreak. It is also her major flaw. As her life with her husband seems to be reaching a point where everything is just right, the outbreak brings everything crashing down around her. During a catastrophic instance where patients at the hospital she volunteers at explode, Harper, in the early stages of pregnancy, contracts Dragonscale. What ensues can only be described as a complete breakdown of civilization.
Harper is forced to run to survive. A large, hidden community of Dragonscale victims takes her in. While trying to reconcile her past and present, Harper is thrust into the strange community that is a snapshot of the social problems driving the violent reactions to Dragonscale in mainstream society. She is forced into a life filled with power struggles, strange variations of the Dragonscale disease, and the constant threat of execution.
Hill does an amazing job of portraying what can happen when misguided individuals decide what is best for a larger group of individuals. He shows through Harper and her band of Dragonscale misfits that selflessness is never easy, but to be selfish and think only of individual survival breeds the breakdown of civilization. While this novel is long, Hill ensures that every moment is impactful by creating shocking responses to the events and strong emotional attachments to the characters. There may be moments of dark, eerie fantasy, but overall The Fireman shows the impact closed-mindedness has on society during times of great upheaval.
After obtaining a Masters in Liberal Arts and Literature Marcus has dedicated most of his time to teaching English Composition for a community college in the Midwest. In his down time, he spends time avidly reading an eclectic selection of books and doing freelance writing whenever he gets the chance. He lives in Kansas with his wife.
Review copy was provided free of any obligation by William Morrow. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.