While I read a lot of books throughout the year (thirty-one for the year. What what) not all of them were necisarrily released in 2016. Don’t get me wrong, I read a number of “current” books (is current the right word here?) but I try not to limit my reading based on the year the book was released. There were a number of books that I loved this year (The Chaos Walking trilogy was a pleasant surprise while I fell in love with Station Eleven hard). The only problem with those books is they weren’t released in 2016 which becomes kind of a pain when trying to comprise a list of the best pop culture items of 2016. Really can’t be using books published four or five years ago, can I?
Lucky for me around May I started Joe Hill’s newest novel, The Fireman and knew instantly that this book was going on the best of 2016 list. Much like when reading Station Eleven I kind of fell in love with this book within the first few pages. I’m sure you know the feeling when you’re reading something and just feel that connection. There’s something about a brilliant book that draws you in immediately. I felt it with the Dark Tower, Harry Potter, and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (to name just a few) and I felt it when within the pages of The Fireman. I’m not saying that I love this book on the level of the books I just mentioned, but I would read this again and I think that’s the ultimate compliment that could be paid to a novel. The ability to go back into those pages looking to find more. As we get older we relate to different things and some books are able to grow with you. That’s the greatest gift that could happen to a reader. Growing old with a book. Sounds so romantic, doesn’t it?
The Fireman is a post apocalypse novel where a virus called dragonscale which covers the persons body with these golden flakes which eventually lead to said person bursting into flames. As the spores spread most people have trouble controlling their temperature and start spontaneously combusting all across the world. How nuts is that? Just picture being at work or walking down the street and someone just randomly bursts into flames. The problem is the virus is a spore and quickly spreads while people and whole cities burn to the ground. As far as apocalypse viruses go this one was a bit refreshing as it was something new. Much like his father, Stephen King, Joe Hill really is able to delve into the terror as the virus initially starts to spread. I would argue that some of the best parts of The Stand are that first quarter of the novel when the Captain Trips starts to spread and the everyone loses their freakin’ mind… I might have to read that next year. It’s been far too long.
Outside of the virus problem, Hill packs this book with tremendous characters and great moments. I fell in love with Harper within the first five pages, there was just something in her voice and tone that made me know that she was going to be one of those characters that you want to spend time with. It may sound weird but Harper is such a genuine character. As a nurse she chooses to be down in the trenches with those suffering from dragonscale, but her faith and demeanor never waiver. She brings the same unique brand of treatment to each patient she encounters, and comes across as someone who actually cares. Harper is easy to fall in love with and easier to fall in love with. She has this kind of glow (non dragonscale related) to her.
Every time I closed The Fireman I itched to get back to it. It’s tough talking about a book you love because you want to sell people on it but you also don’t want to give a way the farm when it comes to plot details. Lately when reading a book I only want a loose outline of what the story is about this way I can fill in the gaps as they come. I don’t mean to brag but sometimes I’m able to piece things together based off of blurbs or chapter titles, and that can effect the enjoyment of the story for me. I just want the story to develop around me and The Firefighter was perfect for that. As for selling the novel to you Geeklings, you should know that not everyone who has dragonscale bursts into flames (you can connect with it) and sometimes while running from evil you find that you’re kind of surrounded by it already.
It’s clear that The Fireman is influenced by stories like Mary Poppins and The Stand and to a degree Harry Potter. In one of my favorite parts of the novel, Hill’s dedication page was enough to inspire me to write more. Just seeing the importance that stories and different authors ha hvead on him, and watching as they bleed their way into his novel. Joe Hill is a crazy talented writer, without being associated to his father, and the winks and nods to King’s works help to expand and unite these different literary universes. You all know how I feel about shared universes.
The Fireman is a post apocalyptic novel that concerns itself with the importance of maintaining your identity in the face of adversity, the fever of cults or religious groups, love, redemption, and most importantly hope. The hope that things can get better or the hope that this isn’t all that the world has left to offer. As the world burns and people without the virus learn to mistrust and hate those with it the boundaries of right and wrong quickly dissolve. It’s watching what this dissolving does to characters that makes the story move forward. But under all of that the underlining theme is hope that things can get better.
Who is the Fireman? I want to tell you but I won’t as discovering that is part of the readers journey. Joe Hill has created such a vast and rich world that this 700 plus page book just flies by. Be sure to stick around after the appendix as there’s a small epilogue tagged on during all that. Finding that part of the story kind of reminded me of a secret track on an album, but it’s worth reading as it brings a little bit of resolution and closure to this tale. One you’ll want to revisit soon again.