In THE FIREMAN, a terrifying new plague is spreading across the globe and no one seems to know where it came from or how to stop it. The media has nicknamed the deadly disease Dragonscale. It marks its victim's skin with beautiful black and gold marks before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected, and cities around the world are burning. When Harper Grayson becomes infected, she fears for her life, and the life of her unborn child. She's terrified of being hunted by the armed self-appointed posses that seek and kill those with the disease. But there are stories about one man--only known as the Fireman--who has learned to control the flame within him, using it as a shield to protect those who are hunted, and to avenge those who are wronged. In a race to stay alive, Harper must learn the Fireman's secrets before her life goes up in smoke.
To start, Joe Hill's THE FIREMAN is a complex, post-apocalyptic book filled with depth, horror, and humor. At almost 800 pages, it is not so much a book as it is an epic. There is very little build up to the disease's outbreak. Page one starts with the Dragonscale already spreading around world and the story races on from there. In THE FIREMAN, Hill confronts the reader with a terrifying concept: a disease that literally will burn you alive. He also presents us with a large cast of characters, some who represent the very core of human condition at its worst. The very idea that uninfected people would hunt and kill those that are infected is almost more terrifying than the disease itself.
It's easy to lose one's self in THE FIREMAN. There are characters that you can't help but be drawn to, such as the pragmatic Harper and the enigmatic Fireman. There are also antagonists that you quickly grow to loathe. If I had one complaint, it would be that there are too many antagonists. This epic tale comes with a rogue's gallery of evildoers, one coming right after the other. There were a few spots where it felt like the book was about to end, only to have yet another antagonist arrive to challenge the book's heroes on their quest. It got a bit maddening at points to feel like the story was ending to only have yet another story arc begin.
Although THE FIREMAN was released several years ago, it seemed particularly poignant considering current affairs. Going through this book in the midst of a pandemic was, at the very least, eye-opening. Hill describes a nightmare scenario that seems a little too real at the moment, reminding the reader that humankind could be only a few steps away from impending doom and destruction. The ideological cruelty that THE FIREMAN portrays is strikingly realistic, and, to be honest, a bit frightening.
One additional note on this book. I listened to the audiobook of THE FIREMAN, all twenty plus hours of it. It was narrated by Kate Mulgrew, best known as Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager. Mulgrew provided an outstanding experience with a wide range of voices to distinguish the characters. Her narration enhanced THE FIREMAN tremendously, and is well worth a listen.