Book of the Week: The Fireman – Joe Hill

Horror writer Joe Hill is no stranger to the bestseller lists but with this fast-paced, cheeky dystopian epic I think we can expect him to arrive early and stay awhile. Hill’s fans are a devoted bunch and the Indies have always been among the biggest supporters of his next-wave commercial horror. But his admirers also include fellow writers like Michael Koryta who says he is “[q]uite simply the best horror writer of our generation.”

The Washington Post has already run a brief early review which notes that “Hill’s witty sense of fun permeates the novel’s larger themes of prejudice and redemption, making the book’s 700-plus pages a surprisingly quick read.”

Morrow has done a great teaser trailer that offers a visual summary of the broad strokes of the plot.

Like many a horror epic before it (Stephen King’s The Stand comes to mind), The Fireman pits a small group of individuals against a dark force—in this case a virus threatening to wipe out humanity. This particular virus causes people to spontaneously combust but the bigger threat might be human beings themselves–the fearful communities that seek to save themselves by shunning outsiders and the unknown. That Hill does this with such narrative wit is one of his distinctive talents. And in this election year, it was not hard for this reader to also see an allegory about the risks of reactionary isolationism in a dangerous world.

The Fireman received three starred reviews from the major advance periodicals and I’ll let those reviews offer more plot details. At on sale reviews are scheduled in New York Times, Entertainment Weekly, New York, Time, the Wall Street Journal and the LA Review of Books.

“In Hill’s superb supernatural thriller, the world is falling apart in a maelstrom of flame and fury. A spore dubbed Dragonscale infects people, draws patterns on their skin, and eventually makes them spontaneously combust—and it’s rapidly spreading….Hill has followed 2013’s NOS4A2 with a tremendous, heartrending epic of bravery and love set in a fully realized and terrifying apocalyptic world, where hope lies in the simplest of gestures and the fullest of hearts.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“Like his father, Stephen King, Hill has a talent for depicting fascinating characters caught in terrible situations….With a full cast of characters and multiple story lines to keep the reader hooked, Hill’s enthralling fourth thriller hits another home run.”
Library Journal (starred review)

[R]eaders will be hard-pressed to stop turning the pages. Add in the well-developed cast of characters (both good and evil), fun pop-culture references, and a satisfying but open ended conclusion, and the story becomes infectious…an excellent example of the very best that genre fiction has to offer readers today.”
Booklist (starred review)

 “Joe Hill can truly do no wrong. His newest novel nods to his father’s epic, The Stand, but approaches the fallout of a worldwide epidemic from a thoroughly modern viewpoint. As a nurse, Harper Grayson is in a position to help when a contagion that causes spontaneous combustion sweeps the world, dividing people into the infected, and the fearful non-infected. Without a clear understanding of how the illness is spread and wildfires beginning to decimate swaths of civilization, populations panic and extermination crews begin to wipe out carriers. Having become infected herself with the ‘dragonscale’ a pregnant Harper is forced to flee her uninfected husband Jakob. With the help of the mysterious Fireman, Harper makes it to a hidden band of dragonscale survivors who have learned to tap into the illness to prevent combustion. But with the danger from healthy marauders and the increasingly cult-like feel of her new community, Harper is far from feeling secure for the future of her child. I couldn’t put The Fireman down!”
— Whitney Spotts, Schuler Books and Music, East Lansing, MI

5/11/16 Update: The NYT weighs in

“[The Fireman] reaffirms [Hill’s] gifts for riveting attention and pushing genre conventions to new extremes. This may be the first horror novel to turn its heroine’s singing (“A Spoonful of Sugar”) and quoting Mary Poppins (“spit spot”) into new ways to make the skin crawl… The Fireman is big. It creates an alluringly weird world. It has a highly developed code of honor, not to mention an ever-surprising lineup of surreal tricks its characters can pull. And it thrives on fear, but has hope at heart.”

The Fireman (9780062200631) by Joe Hill. $28.99 hardcover. 5/17/16 one day laydown.

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