The Fireman

The Fireman: A Novel - Joe Hill

[I received a copy of this book through Edelweiss, in exchange for an honest review.]

I don't really know what happened. I guess for now, I'm not with the majority of readers? I thought I'd enjoy this novel much more than I did, and... well, I didn't dislike it, but I didn't care much about it either. The fact it took me one month to finish it, even though it's not a complicated book (we're not talking hard non-fiction university topics here), is proof enough, I guess?

The basic idea was good. Although I found the science behind the Dragonscale is a bit wishy-washy, in itself, it could have worked if the plot had been more... enthralling? It started well enough, with a potential (and loathsome) antagonist almost straight off the bat, and a main character, Harper, who's a bit of a pushover, but with room to evolve and overall positive features. The story introduced harsh themes, too: for instance, Harper and Jakob had that “contract” that if they were to get infected, they'd die together peacefully, before the Dragonscale burnt them to a crips like it did for all the other infected people. Except that Harper finds out she's pregnant and infected almost at the same time, and suddenly the choice isn't so easy anymore—she wants to live, for herself as much as for the baby. Jakob doesn't agree so much, and that's where the first batch of crap hits the fan.

The story follows Harper during her pregnancy, as she tries to figure out how to go on, how to survive, who she can entrust her child with once they're born... As her path crosses with that of the Fireman's, she finds herself involved with other infected people, and realises that there's so much more to Dragonscale than meet the eye...

...And from then on, my interested gradually dwindled. I'm not so sure how to explain that. I think it was a mix of events unfolding too slowly (considering the apocalyptic setting), combined with somewhat long-winded writing, characters that remained more one-dimensional, and elements I'm didn't particularly cared about. Mostly:

- Harper has this thing with Mary Poppins, staying positive, etc. and in the end, even though she was relatively resourceful in general, there wasn't that much more to her. Father Storey is a nice and probably too naïve man and... that's all. The Fireman is supposed to be a larger than life figure, but he doesn't do that much, all things considered, and his influence on the story wasn't as exciting as the blurb led me to think. The “slightly crazy cult leader” character is just that. Jakob remains just loathsome when he could've been a terrifying figure. And so on.

- The cult/camp is a hit-or-miss element for me. I've always thought there was something fascinating—well, fascinating like a train-wreck—in those communities centered around one or two leader characters, with everybody foollowing blindly and outsiders/dissenters being shunned, castigated, thrown out, etc. But it just didn't work so well for me here.

- At times the characters spent too much time debating and discussing instead of being proactive. It was a bit boring.

- The collapse of society itself didn't always make much sense. Some places have electricity when it's supposed to be gone and there's not that much of an explanation. Or cell phones: months later the network's still up. There was an annoying dichotoomy between the apparent collapse and sudden elements turning out to be working perfectly well when you wouldn't expect them to anymore.

- I also had a hard time with chapters regularly ending in foreshadowing. As in: “But the CDC team never got to look at it, because by the time August rolled around Portsmouth Hospital was a hollowed-­out chimney, gutted by fire, and Dr. Ryall was dead, along with Albert Holmes, Nurse Lean, and over five hundred patients.” (That's in an early chapter, not too much oof a spoiler, by the way.) So, sure, it's an apocaplytpic/post-apocalyptic setting, and you do expect people to die and things to go bad... doesn't mean I want it to be spelled out every time before it happens. Even though I know nothing good will last, I still want to be surprised as to what bad things will happen.

Conclusion: As said, good ideas, especially the way the 'Scale behaved once one tried to understand how it really worked, but the plot, pacing and characters didn't made much of an impression on me.