“The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale.”
As soon as I’d heard what Dragonscale was, I knew that I needed to read this book. Dragonscale is a terrifying disease that is steadily infecting the world as we know it. It starts as blackened stripes laced with fine gold threads on the skin and ends in the victim bursting into flame. Wait, what was that? Yes, an apocalyptic epic in which people basically spontaneously combust? Oh, ho, ho – I am so in.
Joe Hill, of Horns fame, has completely out done himself with The Fireman. I have no problem saying this and have. A lot. When I finished this book, and it took me a surprisingly short amount of time considering its size, I told everyone who liked books about it. Hell, if I’m honest, I also told people who don’t like books about it. That’s what happens when I get excited about something. I was hoping that my enthusiasm for this book would be as infectious as Dragonscale.
Joe Hill is best known as Stephen King’s son. The family resemblance is clone-like. Hill, like his father, writes in the horror genre but unlike his father, he does not bring out a book a year. If Stephen King is horror’s bread and butter, then Joe Hill’s is the grain and cow. He is not the juice, but the concentrate. What I’m really trying to say here is that Hill has worked and worked and worked on this book and the outcome is a tremendous, fast-paced epic that kept me turning pages until the wee hours of the morning.
Harper is the heroine of this book – and what a heroine she is! Harper is a nurse who works with Dragonscale victims. She is a fan of Mary Poppins and Harry Potter. Harper discovers a small streak of blackened skin, laced with gold, on her back. She also discovers that she’s pregnant.
She remembers a man in a fireman’s uniform who had brought a young boy to the emergency room. The boy and fireman had both been infected and yet, they seemed different. It’s then that Harper seeks out this fireman and the story is off and roaring.
Harper is brilliant. She’s determined to beat this disease in order to see her unborn child to term. She’ll do whatever it takes to see this through. She takes her inspiration from Mary Poppins. These allusions to Mary Poppins and Harry Potter and other pop cultures bits and bobs, not only show that Joe Hill is a fellow nerd, but also lighten the mood of a rather dark tale. Afterall, a spoonful of sugar would surely make the threat of spontaneous combustion a little bit less frightening, right?
When I finished reading this book, I immediately read everything else Joe Hill had ever written; but The Fireman is the book that I would always recommend first. Whilst the main characters of his other novels are all rather unlikeable to begin with, Harper is an instant delight.
The Fireman is horror-light. What did they used to put on old genre-bending books? Point Fantasy. Point Thriller. Well, this one is Point Horror. I realise that the term “horror” is a deterrent for many a reader and so I implore you not to think of this as horror. It is a thriller. It is a book about human nature and how this changes when something devastating threatens to destroy everything we know and hold dear. It is a book about reactions and the transformation of people when faced with their own mortality.
So, is the book scary? Sure, a bit, but that makes it more exciting! But, it is really a tale of morals and of how people warp before your eyes. The world in crisis, as Hill paints it, is cruel but Harper is there at your side with her wizarding wand ready for action and her supercalifragilisticexpialican-do attitude always in place. She’ll hold your hand should you get too frightened. I know she held mine.