Book reviews

#Bookreview The Fireman by Joe Hill Fire (@joe_hill), Apocalypse and Pop-culture with a spoonful of sugar. Who are the really sick ones?

Hi all:
As I mentioned due to my current circumstances (a quick update. My mother had a catheterism and doctors are happy with the results. Hopefully if after further tests it’s possible that she might have been discharged by the time you read this) my posts haven’t been as frequent and structured than usual. Due to how tired both of us (Mom and I) are after these two weeks, and the many things we have to catch up with, I’ll be having a bit of a break. I don’t expect it to be very long, but it might depend on how long it takes to get back on track.

But as I also told you, I’m still reading, and here I bring one of my latest. This is an author I’m keeping watch for. I’ve mentioned before that I love horror (although I don’t read it all that often these days) and I’m a big fan of Stephen King. Well, if you haven’t met him yet, let me introduce you to the latest book by one of his sons, Joe Hill.

The Fireman by Joe Hill
The Fireman by Joe Hill

Thanks to Orion Publishing Group Gollancz and to Net Galley for providing me a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

I have read three books by Joe Hill before, enjoyed them and I was excited when I saw his new novel on offer at Net Galley. In short, the book offers a post-apocalyptic vision of a world decimated by a fungus with a lyrical name, Draco incendia trychophyton (or Dragonscale for friends), that turns human beings into torches, and the adventures of a particular group of sufferers.

Joe Hill thanks both J. K. Rowling and his father, Stephen King, for the inspiration, and indeed that’s quite evident throughout the book, together with many references to a variety of pop-culture items: songs from musicals, songs from pop and rock groups (yes, there’s a fair amount of singing), hymns, foodstuffs, cars, TV cult series and books, many books. Those will, no doubt, enhance the reading experience of people in the know, although should not affect the understanding or enjoyment of the story for those who might not be fully conversant with all of them.

The story is told (mostly, apart from a few brief chapters) in third person from the point of view of Harper, a school nurse who volunteers to work in a hospital treating those affected when the school she worked at closes doors due to the spread of the infection and its terrible effects (the fungus makes people ignite, and with them, the things and beings around them. And it can set off a chain reaction of burners too). Unfortunately, she becomes infected and shortly after discovers that she’s pregnant. She also discovers that her perfect marriage to Jakob is anything but, and she ends up taking refuge at an old campsite where a group of affected individuals have discovered a way to control the illness. They welcome her into their congregation/community and although she finds it difficult to fit in at first, she becomes a member of the group, joining in the Bright (you need to read it to know what this means, but let’s say it’s a way of sharing and communicating that the younger generation refers to as social networking) and comes to love many of the residents. She also discovers things about herself she didn’t know, and of course, she meets the Fireman, John, and Englishman who seems to have learnt to control the Dragonscale much better than anybody else, and goes around driving an old fire truck and dressed in a fireman’s uniform. In a nod to Ray Bradbury, this Fireman controls fire and sets things alight, rather than putting fires out. He is a larger than life character, although we discover later in the books that he’s all too human.

As is the case in all crises, they seem to bring both the best and the worst in people, and if the point of view we follow puts readers in a sympathetic frame of mind towards Dragonscale sufferers, we gradually see that things are not black and white and not all is harmony.  The congregation seems happy and a haven for people infected at first (indeed for a while it’s a case of those infected —at least the members of the group— appearing to be more humane and morally right than healthy individuals), but over time we discover that whilst the fungus seems to enjoy people’s connectedness and happy emotions, there are risks involved in channelling such power and following blindly what ends up looking scarily like a cult. There are thefts, accusations and resentments, and when two prisoners are rescued, terrible things happen and ugly behaviours rear their heads. There are many secrets, and although we might have our suspicions, by being inside of Harper’s head we only have access to her opinions and thoughts. She is curious and finds out some interesting first-hand information that helps us understand the illness (I loved some of the theories behind its spread, however fanciful they were), but she is also a human being with feelings and emotions. She doesn’t always make rational decisions and she is often wrong. And she wrongfoots us.

The characters are distinct and unique, the good, the bad, and the truly human. I liked and cared for Harper, who is a pretty special individual who comes into her own as the book advances and who indeed is one of the people who grow. She matures and becomes a hero. If her husband tells her he had expected her to be his inspiration, she finds a real family and a calling during her adventures. The Fireman is a fantastic character and I enjoyed the mystery around him at first, and also getting to know more of his circumstances. Many of the secondary characters are also memorable. Nick, the deaf boy who steals everybody’s heart; Allie, his sister, a totally believable teenager who deserves a book of her own; fantastic Renée with her love for books and her courage…

The books is beautifully written, the descriptions not overbearing but vivid and lyrical at times, the story moves along at good rhythm, with chapters that are more contemplative and share information (like the diary Harper reads), and others packed with intrigue, action and a healthy dose of fright. I thoroughly enjoyed it, although I did not find it truly scary (but that’s not necessarily a recommendation for general readers, as I love horror and don’t scare easy). With regards to its genre, I’ve read a few post-apocalyptic stories but I’m not a real buff. To give you some idea based on my previous reading, I’d say that Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is more contemplative, challenging, philosophical, and made me think more. The Dead Lands by Dylan Morgan (that is more sci-fi) is scarier and grittier but more interested in action and weaponry.

I had a look at the reviews and comments about the book to see if I could shed light or at least my own opinion on the matter. I saw that many people compared it negatively to King’s The Stand, but although I love Stephen King’s books, I have not read all of them and that one has escaped me so far, so I can’t comment on that (although the reviews made me want to read it. The Fireman is much shorter, though). So if you’ve read The Stand and loved it you might want to read the comments first. Of course, you might want to make your own mind up.

Some others didn’t find Harper’s romantic relationship (I’m trying not to reveal any spoilers here) realistic and they think it seems very sudden and as if come out of nowhere. On that subject I agree that there does not seem to be a big build-up or many hints as to the interest between the two, but there are some subtle indications that they are matching souls, and it’s true that at times of emotional turmoil when life might come to an end at any minute one might hold on to the little moments of joy (that without taking into account the interesting effects of the Dragonscale). The novel would have worked without the relationship, but for me it rounds it up.

I enjoyed it as a great yarn, with strong characters easy to root for (and others easy to hate) and great quality writing. I’m not sure it will beat all other post-apocalyptic stories for those who love the genre, but it’s a good read. I look forward to Joe Hill’s next book.

Links to Kindle version (available in many other formats)

Author Joe Hill
Author Joe Hill

I mention in the review that I’ve read three of his books. These was before I started publishing my own books and I didn’t write detailed reviews, although I wholeheartedly recommend Heart-Shaped Box  and 20th Century Ghosts (if you love ghosts and short-stories, some of them are masterpieces). I also read Horns that is a very quirky book (I prefer the other two but this one is perhaps more mainstream. I haven’t watched the movie with Daniel Radcliffe and can’t comment on how good or bad it is).


He’s written many more things and some of his stories appear in collections, so you might want to check his Amazon page where I got this from:

The author of the critically acclaimed Heart-Shaped Box and 20th Century Ghosts, Joe Hill is a two-time winner of the Bram Stoker Award, and a past recipient of the Ray Bradbury Fellowship. His stories have appeared in a variety of journals and Year’s Best collections. He calls New England home.

By the way, when I checked his Twitter account it seems he’s in England with the Fireman, so  you might want to keep an eye open for him.

Thanks to NetGalley, Orion and of course Joe Hill for the book, thanks to all of you for reading, and do like, share, comment and CLICK!

By OlgaNunez

I was born in Barcelona and after living in the UK for many years have now returned home. I teach English, volunteer at Sants 3 Ràdio, a local radio station, I'm a writer, translator (English-Spanish and vice-versa) and I'm a medical doctor and worked in Forensic Psychiatry many years. I also have a BA and a PhD in American Literature and Film, and a Masters in Criminology. I've always loved books and apart from writing them I review them often.
I write a bit of everything, check my books for more information and my about page for links.
My blog is bilingual, English and Spanish.

28 replies on “#Bookreview The Fireman by Joe Hill Fire (@joe_hill), Apocalypse and Pop-culture with a spoonful of sugar. Who are the really sick ones?”

It’s an exciting review, Olga. I didn’t realize Steven King had a writer son, but I can see the family resemblance.
Even though I’m not a big fan of horror, this book sounds enjoyable. Except that I’m particularly afraid of fires, having had a couple of near misses. LOL, maybe I should think twice before I pick it up — or read one of his other stories. 😀
Wishing you and your mom well. Mega hugs.

Thanks so much, Teagan. I definitely recommend the other books I’ve read and if you don’t have a lot of time (I know you don’t) the short stories one might be an easier one to find time for. I think he has another son who also writes, but I haven’t come across him yet. Yes, there is a family resemblance for sure.

Wishing you and your mom the best and especially a fast recovery for her. <3 <3
I had no idea who Joe Hill was. What a surprise. Now I want to read his books too. I haven't read all Stephen King's books, but I have a couple shelves packed with enough reading to last a year and can't wait to get to them again s.o.o.n.
Quite an in-depth review, Olga. Thank you. 😎 <3

Thanks very much, Tess. So far so good. I think I discovered him at the library. I remember they chose the name Joe Hill because of the Swedish-American labor activist of that name. I read good things about his first book and I’ve been trying to catch up with his books ever since. I think it’s quite tricky to read all of King’s books as he’s quite prolific but I’ll keep going. The talent definitely runs in the family (and the looks it seems do too…)

I have promised myself to look out for Joe’s books in the Charity books store every week–tomorrow is my shift. 😀 Thanks for the introduction, Olga, not that I know WHEN I’ll get to his book(s) when I find one. o_O

Thanks, Tess. I know perfectly well what you mean. After reading that book and the comments I’ve started checking for ‘The Stand’. I did find a version in Spanish but I’d rather read it in English. That one is well over 1000 pages so I don’t know if I’ll ever have time to read it but I’ll try. What a luxury, though, to have too many books to read!

I agree that he looks like his dad!
Before I got to, ‘a nod to ray Bradbury’, I was already thinking of Fahrenheit 451. However, it seems very different, and looks set to make a great film one day too. Thanks, Olga, I might even buy this one!
Best wishes, Pete.

Thanks, Pete. It’s a good read indeed, but you’re right, the book is very different (not so much a social commentary, although it does say something about extreme ideology and cults). I think you’re right about the film because some of the descriptions are pretty spectacular too.

If he is the son of King, then surely a film deal must be possible? x

You’re right. They adapted ‘Horns’ already with Daniel Radcliffe so…

I hope everything is alright with your mom. Wishing everyone in your family the best, Olga!

Wow, when you review a book, you do such a thorough job! I couldn’t help feeling a bit miffed that this writer has had an advantage from the start, though, given his father’s super-star status and connections. I wonder if he is really talented or if he has a lot of help polishing up his manuscripts? Maybe that’s unfair of me, but I have long felt that there is so much unharvested writing talent out there that will never be discovered because wonderful writers don’t have the money or connections to get their manuscripts to right people. Then there are famous people who publish books and get interviewed on all the talk shows…

Thanks, Lorna. Yes, my Mom is doing well, much better than I expected after the ordeal…
I know what you mean. From having read a few of his books, I think he does have talent (and indeed very interesting ideas for stories), although yes, it’s not an even playing field. It never is. I’m more annoyed by the ‘celebrities’ whose only talent and claim to fame seems to be… being famous for nothing in particular, and the fact that their books (that I’m sure somebody else writes for them… I hope the pay is reasonable at least) sell tonnes just because of who ‘wrote’ them, even if they might never be read (on only because of the possible ‘scandalous’ nature of the revelations contained in the book). But then, there’s no reason why famous people couldn’t have a talent writing too (and some people are good at many things. I have read several of Carrie Fisher’s novels, for instance, and really like them). And perhaps is not only those people at fault (after all Joe Hill can’t help being born in that family, growing up in a house full of books, and enjoying writing). Readers, publicists, publishing companies invest on safe bets. Indeed I’m not sure I’d like to live in the shadow of Stephen King and being forever compared to him. As I say, many of the comments about this novel refer to ‘The Stand’. Oh well, perhaps we’ll become famous for something. Or some well known writer will adopt us…

I guess it’s a mixed blessing. I’ve seen children of famous parents who exploit it, despite having none of the talent, those who try to do something completely different to avoid comparisons, the ones who have serious issues (and yes, it can get ugly), and some that seem to run with it and are good natured about it (sometimes better than the parents, sometimes not so much, but…). I think Joe Hill is of the latter. One wonders about these big dynasties of actors (the Redgraves, the Barrymores, in Spain Javier Bardem comes from a long line of filmmakers, I remember Geraldine Chaplin who worked a lot in Spain…). I’m digressing badly! Have a great week!

Looks like a fabulous one for my TBR Olga. I hope that you and your mother both feel good and healthy and not stressed very soon. <3

Thanks, Jo. Yes, it’s a very good read. Things are going well so far, but it was a scare. Slowly but surely. Do take lots of care.

Thank you for the review, Olga! I love the genre and look forward to reading the book.

He looks a bit like his dad, doesn’t he? I’ve read several of the King pere’s books and they frightened the hell out of me! This one sounds intriguing, and despite my reluctance to read horror, with Rosie’s encouragement I have expanded my world, so this will get on to my TBR list – thanks to your review! Prayers for your Mom!

Thanks, Noelle. My Mom is back home and much better, thanks. Slowly but surely. He does look like his Dad, indeed. As I said I didn’t find it too scary although it has its moments. I hope you enjoy it and he has some fantastic stories if you’re exploring the supernatural…

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