"The Fireman" by Joe Hill | Book Review
Genre: Dystopia, Thriller
Page Count: 747
First Published: May 17, 2016
Imagine a future where a highly infectious disease that causes humans to spontaneously combust is conquering the world. There is no cure, and the only hope is to steer clear of the infected. Unless you're a mysterious man called The Fireman, who has somehow learned to control the fire and essentially turned it into a superpower. Sounds like a thrilling dystopian novel, doesn't it? Sadly, I'm here tell you The Fireman is much less exciting than it sounds.
Look, I'm not going to lie, I may have hyped this one up in my mind because Joe Hill has set my expectations pretty high with Locke & Key and NOS4A2, but I think even for the uninitiated this one is going to be slow burn. Get it? A slow BURN? OK, I'll stop. The premise of the novel is incredibly promising, and for the first few chapters things are off to a great start. Our main character, Harper, is a kind and compassionate nurse who has good news and bad news for her husband: the good news is that she's pregnant, the bad news is that she is infected with Dragonscale. This sets off a chain of events that forces Harper to make some difficult decisions as she wants to live long enough to see her baby born. Oh, you thought in a book called The Fireman the lead character would be The Fireman himself? That would be too easy. We DO meet The Fireman, and he is a very interesting character, but don't get your hopes up—his presence in the novel is very episodic.
While all of this may sound like you're in for ride, the majority of the book is spent on not-so-relevant discussions stuffed with pop culture references, borrowing from Stephen King, and religious themes. Do I really need to hear about Mary Poppins and a spoonful of sugar on a regular basis? Do I really need to know what being a Beatles fan versus being a Rolling Stones fan says about a person? Do I need celebrity name dropping to feel like this book is relevant? The answer to all of that is "NO". The sad thing is that when this book has its good moments—it's REALLY good. However, a few exciting sections don't make up for long stretches of barely anything happening.
What is also bizarre is how often Joe Hill breaks his own rules when it comes to Dragonscale. For spoiler-related reasons I will not go into the details, but let's just say that most of these characters should have been dead somewhere around the halfway point of the novel. I don't mind suspending my disbelief for the sake of a good story, but consistency is key in this situation.
Now, I didn't think The Fireman was a terrible book—Joe Hill knows how to write characters, and he definitely doesn't hold back when he lets all hell break loose. The problem was that the premise (and the marketing of this novel) promised me a horror thriller, and what I got was a reflection on life in a post-apocalyptic word, with a few thrilling moments. This isn't something I'm opposed to as a concept, but when the majority of 747 pages (or in my case, 22 hours of the audiobook) are spent on discussions (half of which are about things that happened before the events of the book)—it's hard for me to stay interested. This is not what I pick up a dystopian thriller for, even though I love a good philosophical or ethical discussion as a part of my reading experience (the key word is "part"—if I want more I'll go for a different genre altogether).
I'm sad to say I was disappointed by The Fireman, and looking back on my notes I went from being incredibly excited for about a fourth of this novel to questioning where is it even going anymore by the halfway point. It's not a bad book, and judging by the amount of 4 and 5 star reviews it definitely found its audience, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't happy to finally be done with it.