Thursday, 26 May 2016

The Fireman

They put down Draco Incendia Trychophyton on the death certificates, but even the Surgeon General called it Dragonscale. Or he had, until he burned to death.

A plague is spreading across the world, no one knows how, but the infected burn up. Literally. Not just a fever, they spontaneously combust. Harper is a working as a school nurse when she first sees a man burst into flames, and with the disease spreading fast she soon finds herself volunteering to care for the victims. There is little she can do to help but one day a fireman walks into the hospital with a child needing medical attention. Her act of kindness will not be forgotten…

The Fireman is a long book but every page was worth it. It shows both the best of people and the worst of people, with some amazing characters that cannot fail to illicit an emotional response, be it positive or negative.

It’s not action packed; I mean people fight but they are not all conveniently trained in martial arts or have a natural talent for beating people up. They use makeshift weapons and not everyone is confident with a gun. And when people are injured, they stay hurt for days, or weeks. It just feels more authentic, like they’re normal people struggling to survive.

Humanity is a germ that thrives on the very edge of catastrophe.

I liked that the protagonist was a pregnant women and her pregnancy isn’t a hindrance. There are some characters that see the unborn baby as more important than what Harper wants but these are always treated with disdain. When the child is called “precious cargo” you know no one is endorsing that kind of attitude towards women. The pregnancy doesn’t define her, although maybe it contributes to her resilience. Harper’s pretty amazing.

So really the unique selling point of this novel is the disease, which is different but actually felt really plausible. There’s some science behind it that kind of makes sense. It’s not a virus but a spore and I could believe that there’s fungus out there that could self-combust, taking a person down with it, as well as excreting mind altering chemicals. I mean there’s a lot of freaky stuff out there in nature already.

What was really fascinating was the exploration of group acceptance. I vaguely knew about the existence of a “social media hormone” which is oxytocin. This hormone makes us feel good about group activities and being accepted by your peers. That’s why you get a little buzz out of retweets and likes. As the story progresses we see how the presence of this hormone affects people differently and it looks at the behaviour behind pack mentality and cults.

When they spoke of the Bright, they had all the uncomplicated happiness of pod people.

At one point, one of the characters likens them to zombies. When you think about it, in a traditional zombie story, the cremation crews would have been the good guys, killing the infected for the greater good of the remaining healthy humans. But here we see it from the infected’s point of view. At what point are those human rights withdrawn?

There are some brutal deaths, both intentional and accidental, but instead of a gore fest they all matter. It’s a very people driven story and I did feel that it highlighted the pointless tragedy of it all.

Camp Wyndham that winter was neither Hogwarts nor the island in Lord of the Flies, after all, but a place of wandering, damaged orphans, kids who were willing to forego eating lunch so there was enough food for others.

The characters aren’t scared of referencing pop culture, books and so-forth, just like people probably would. You’ll probably be searching for a Bradbury link with the title and the opening quote… Maybe there’s a little of that pack mentality in both. Camp Wyndham must a reference to John and I think it shares some of its empathy with his “cosy catastrophes”.

I loved this book and I heartily recommend it to anyone who loves a good apocalypse or survival story. The Fireman is published by Gollancz and will be available in hardback from the 7th June 2016 and is available now in ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review via NetGalley.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.

2 comments:

  1. Worth buying the hardback? I really liked Joe Hill's last book, NOS4R2, and this sounds really good. And I noticed today his dad's got a new book out on the same day - a bit of family rivalry for the bestseller chart! :D

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    1. Yes if you can cope with the size. Not seen it in person as I read an ebook but I imagine it's going to be a brick. Though I did see Waterstones have an edition with red sprayed edges that is tempting...

      I have a copy of NOS4R2 somewhere. I was put off by the length but after reading this I think I'll dig it out!

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