Finished The Fireman by Joe Hill. I received a copy from the publisher for review.
Summary (from Goodreads):
“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 infected; 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 ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses 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 the 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.”
I have been a fan of Joe Hill’s since I read Heart-Shaped Box. It was one of the most genuinely unsettling books I’d ever read (then or since) and I knew that he was going to be one of my favorites authors.
His later books helped cement that (NOS4A2 is probably my favorite of his) and this one is just as good. The easy comparison is probably to The Stand, and it’s a fair one to make (end of the world, focusing just as much on how the world ends as how a small group of survivors try to stay alive) but honestly, I think I preferred this. (That may at least partially be because I catch a cold every time I read The Stand and it terrifies me every time, even though I know it’s coming.)
We don’t spend much time with Harper and Jakob before Dragonscale makes an appearance and even after, we spend much more time with Harper. This works, because as we learn a little more about Jakob, it becomes clear that he’s a pretty wretched human being. (I would have liked to know more about what he was like before the world started ending, but I’m honestly 98% sure he’d be a jerk under any circumstance.)
And the book gets even better (and Harper’s life gets better) once we get to the community of survivors. It also becomes such an interesting sociological statement of what becomes important when everything is falling apart. What do people cling to once everything is essentially gone? And it’s not a spoiler to say that the community shows us the best and worst of humanity.
I found the book to be incredibly clever and sweet and funny and a little bit heartbreaking. I loved the characters (except for the ones I hated, of course, but I could even understand and find empathy for them) and I miss them.