Harper Collins, $28.99, 747 pages, ISBN 978-0-06-220063-1
When I had the pleasure of hearing this weeks author being interviewed on NPR a few days ago, he said something that hit me right in the funny bone. And although I admit to having a warped sense of humor, maybe it’ll resonate with you too. When the interviewer asked him if perhaps folks had had enough of doom lately, without missing a beat, he said, “There’s only two kinds of people in the world: Those who read dystopian novels . . . and wimps.” Having never thought of myself as wimpy, I went to the book pile of potential MBRs, and still smirking to myself, pulled out, The Fireman, by Joe Hill, and dove into a nightmarish world in which a rapidly-spreading pandemic called Dragonscale has infected much of the human race. No one has managed to find out how, or why, or where it started, nor have the doctors and scientists, as well as the CDC, figured out how it’s spread. All that is known for sure, is that the infected person will spontaneously display black lines–similar to tattoos–on their skin, which are flaked with gold scales. Then, the patient will randomly turn into a human torch and burn to a crisp without warning. It’s a horrific way to die; screaming, while smoke and fire belch out of every body orifice as the victim is roasted alive.
The novel begins in New Hampshire where a dedicated, idealistic young nurse named Harper Grayson struggles to treat ever-increasing numbers of patients presenting with Dragonscale. Having seen and experienced the monumental suffering up close, Harper and her husband Jakob agree that they’ll end their lives together if they come down with the disease. It seemed sensible at the time, but that was before . . . before the hospital where she worked was overwhelmed and burned to the ground . . . before Harper discovered the first traces of Dragonscale on her body . . . and before she found out that she’s pregnant. Her maternal instincts kick in and Harper’s consumed with an overwhelming desire to live until her baby is born. Jakob, on the other hand, wants to kill both Harper and himself because he thinks she infected him with Dragonscale. As he becomes more erratic, Harper realizes Jakob isn’t the man she thought he was when they married, and flees for her life when he tries to kill her. She’s rescued in the woods by a man dressed as a fireman and joins a band of infected refugees. With society collapsing, government and law and order disappear. The healthy ones form death squads, killing the infected in the belief it will stop the spread of the fatal disease. Jakob joins the cremation squads and makes it his number one priority to locate and kill Harper Grayson and her unborn baby . . . And that’s only the beginning of this awesome work! Part love story, part mystery and part tragedy, it’s a remarkable novel by a remarkable talent who learned his craft at the feet of a genius. If you’re into dystopian novels, don’t be a wimp. What’s not to like? There’s almost 750 pages of mega-death, Dragonscale, destruction, love, pathos, treachery, mystery and paranormality. Rock-On, world-enders . . . the party’s just beginning!