Written by: Joe Hill
Published by: Gollancz
Joe Hill’s fourth novel The Fireman arrives this week and, if you’ll pardon the pun, it’s one smoking hot read.
Despite the fact that a post-apocalyptic premise isn’t exactly the most orginal basis for a book, Hill’s spin on the aftermath of a modern-day armageddon is gloriously unique.
The deadly plague that ravishes mankind in The Fireman is Dragonscale – a highly contagious spore that appears on the bodies of those who have contracted it as black or golden marks. Despite it’s beauty, Dragonscale causes most people to burst into flames.
Having read too many end-of-the-world books to mention, it was refreshing for a story not to concentrate on the origins of Dragonscale, or how the plague wipes out most of humanity. Instead, Hill concentrates his story on a small group of survivors who have embraced their affliction.
The novel’s main protagonest is school nurse Harper Grayson, who contracts Dragonscale whilst selflessly tending to the afflicted at the local hospital. She finds out she’s a host to the spore around the same time she finds out she’s pregnant, so in some respects The Fireman is about one woman’s bid for survival and her efforts to live long enough to have her baby.
Yet, as you would expect from an imagination as rich as Hill’s, this is much much more than a simple tale of survival.
As the world burns and chaos descends, the heart of the story is set in a community of survivors in New England. Forced to flee for her life when her husband Jakob blames her for bringing Dragonscale into their home, Harper meets the enigmatic fireman.
Also known as John, the fireman leads her to Camp Wyndham, which is home to a group of people who have the ‘Scale but who have learned to control it. Life at the camp initially seems ideal, but Harper soon starts to realise that all is not as it seems.
Harper is a truly fantastic character. When we first meet her, it’s all a bit Mary Poppins (one of her favourite songs is A Spoonful of Sugar), but we soon realise she’s made of sterner stuff. She is one of the few who will not bend to the will of the leaders in Camp Wyndham, yet she is forgiving, brave and compassionate. Her relationship with Fireman John could have taken centre stage, but instead is beautifully under-played by Hill.
I’ve read all of Hill’s books, and although for me it’s not as good as NOS4A2, The Fireman marks a more mature direction. Narratives based on bands of beleaguered survivors fighting to stay alive in a post-apocalyptic world is nothing new.
What is new is the wonderfully written version of a world without Google, Facebook and Donald Trump – but, where, if Fireman John and Harper’s pondering are true, a world where Keith Richard survives. When asked by John is she thinks the Rolling Stone is still alive, she replies “Sure. nothing can kill him. He’ll outlast us all.”
4 out of 5 Nerds