When I finished reading NOS4A2 a few years ago, I was incredibly eager to see what Joe Hill would produce next. That prior novel was my first experience with Hill's work, although I have his other works in my possession and sadly unread, and it shot its way onto my list of all-time favorites. Hill immediately became a must-read author for me, I was that damn impressed. The Fireman is a completely different work than NOS4A2, one that stands tall on its own and proves that Hill is, or at least should be, on his way to becoming a household name.
In The Fireman, Hill brings us into a fiery apocalypse as humanity finds itself stricken by a disease dubbed Dragonscale. Those infected are prone to sudden immolation, and as the disease spreads and panic rises, things get hot in a hurry. Among those afflicted is Nurse Harper Willowes, newly pregnant and whose relationship with her husband, Jacob, has hit a snag due to her infection and his burgeoning psychosis. With the help of the titular fireman, she's able to flee Jacob and find safety at Camp Wyndham, a makeshift commune for the survivors of Dragonscale.
I won't say much more about this book or it's occurrences, and hopefully I haven't said too much already. The Fireman is a big book, a door-stopper epic, but one that never feels overburdened by its page count. It probably could have been made a tad bit shorter, but when the reading is as good and smooth as this, I shall never complain about getting extra pages to lose myself in.
One of the most powerful aspects of this book are the character's themselves, and Hill really lets each of them shine brightly. I was fully invested in each of our leads, as attached to Harper, Nick, Allie, Renee, and the fireman as they were to one another, and it didn't take me very long to full-on despise Jacob. He's a nasty bit of work, but so too, sadly, are a few of the Wyndham leaders who turn inward upon themselves when tragedy strikes and lash out with religious fanaticism toward those who have wronged them.
In fact, my only real complaint is that I didn't get quite as much of the villains as I would have liked. While Jacob is certainly deplorable, as is The Marlboro Man - a conservative radio show host who heads up a Cremation Crew hellbent on killing as many of the infected as possible - I could have used a few more pages with them if only to heighten their threatening countenances.
I also really appreciated the various ways both the infected and the uninfected responded to the Dragonscale epidemic. For some it's an automatic death sentence, for others it's an opportunity to grow, and for others still it's a force to manipulate and control.
Better still, though, is Harper's story of impending motherhood. At its core, The Fireman is every bit about family as it is the end of the world. But like most really good apocalypse stories, this isn't so much a story of the end-times as it is the building of something new, of disparate personalities coming together to create fresh bonds and create new families and connections out of the ashes of the old. There's conflict and tragedy galore, and all kinds of dark intonations about mankind's lesser, baser instincts, but at the center is a bright shining candle of hope - absolutely beautiful hope.
[Note: I received an advanced reader's copy of this title from the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review.]