Katrina Monroe and the Dark Side of Fiction
Katrina Monroe is an author, mother, and professional haterologist. Her favorite things to hate include socks that fall down, grape-flavored anything, and the color 'salmon.' Grab her books here.
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Book Review: The Fireman
From the cover:
The fireman is coming. Stay cool.
No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe.
Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.
Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.
In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.
I entered into this book knowing it would be a commitment. At nearly 800 pages, THE FIREMAN can seem daunting to the casual reader. But I am a huge fan of Joe Hill (HORNS, in particular) so I was excited to see what he came up with.
Right away, Harper was a character I could relate to because it was clear she was borne of my generation. She counts Mary Poppins as an idol and her many Harry Potter references are immediately recognizable, adding to the overall draw of the story. Surprisingly, my usual prejudice against “weak-willed” female characters did not apply. Harper’s strength builds as the story continues, making her the perfect protagonist to navigate us through the dying world Hill has created.
The speculative fiction genre is awash with predatorial diseases and pathogens, particularly in the zombie subgenre, that tend to have the same effect: a person’s personality is changed on such a fundamental level that they become a danger to themselves and the people they care most about.
Hill’s Dragonscale is genius in its creativity. Like all good predators, the Dragonscale is beautiful when it appears as intricate, gold designs on the victims’ skin. Once infected, it’s hard not to admire it while, at the same time, being utterly terrified of going up in flames. Because that’s what it does—when subjected to stress, the Dragonscale forces the host to spontaneously combust. The spore holds the victim hostage, forcing her to become an outcast, until the end finally comes.
Mr. Hill, we need to talk about endings.
Like most readers, I don’t continue onto the acknowledgements and addendums once The End has been reached. THE FIREMAN ends on a cliffhanger, which I normally don’t mind, but it’s the kind of cliffhanger that begs for a second novel that, to my knowledge, isn’t coming. It took another reader to point out the “real” ending in the “Credits” section.
The Fireman, also known as “Joe,” is often made fun of for his cockney accent and colorful profanity. In my mind, no one could play him like Jason Stathom (from The Transporter). Alongside him, I’d pin Piper Perabo as Harper. She hasn’t done a lot of work recently, but I’ve always loved her as a sweet on the outside, hard as nails on the inside character. Carol would be Maria Cross for reasons I can’t give because SPOILERS.
Renee Gilmonton was a surprising character. At first, she seems only a device meant to rip Harper further inside, to pave the way for her later transformation. Renee not only served that purpose, but became one of the most subtly deep and demonstrative characters of the overall theme of THE FIREMAN. She’s the light in the darkness, and the book wouldn’t have been what it was without her.
THE FIREMAN is an edge-of-your-seat novel, and I don’t use that phrase lightly. Hill is ruthless in his treatment of the characters, granting only the slightest reprieve between disasters. It is as real an account as can be imagined should a plague sweep through our society, burning our neighbors and relatives, and forcing our loved ones into seclusion. Despite the scathing view THE FIREMAN casts on the world and its treatment of those that are “different,” I left the book feeling hopeful that there would be people like Harper and Joe and others who would risk their lives to pursue the betterment of the world.