When someone is cold and you share your blanket, you’re both warmer than you would’ve been alone. You offer the sick your medicine and their happiness will be your medicine. Someone probably a lot smarter than me said hell is other people. I say you’re in hell when you don’t give to someone who needs, because you can’t bear to have less. What you are giving away then is your own soul.
-Father Storey, The Fireman
From the rock-n-roll-fantasmagasmic story collection 20th Century Ghosts to the jaw-dropping Locke & Key graphic novel series, from the chilling NOS4A2 to the thrilling Horns, everything Joe Hill writes is pure delight. After three years, I was jonesing for a Hill fix so hard that I pushed my stack of ARCs aside and re-read NOS4A2. No sooner had I closed the book on Charlie Manx and Vic McQueen than the ARC of The Fireman hit my desk, a bit of serendipity that can only be conjured when one’s fandom runs dark and deep.
While The Fireman is easily Hill’s least-scary offering, the things which make him such a pleasure to read are all in evidence; characters you cheer, characters you loathe, a killer pace, and what might be his defining traits – fierce imagination and a gleeful malevolent streak. Hill’s books are like amusement park rides; you strap in, and they rocket you through all the excitement you can handle.
The Fireman is a roller coaster, but it’s also kind of like a camper – that one from The Walking Dead. Only instead of smelling like the acrid B.O. of desperate strangers forced together for survival, this camper smells like clouds of smoke, roasted flesh, and a metaphor for prejudice. Like The Walking Dead isn’t about zombies, The Fireman isn’t about fire; both stories are about the terrible things people do to each-other when the brittle veneer of civilization flakes away.
Or burns away, in this case.
As a bonus for loyal readers, Easter Eggs abound in The Fireman. Bing Partridge isn’t in attendance, but you’ll find a Gasmask Man. It’s not literally the Devil, but a horned, fiery creature makes a cameo. And for fans of Hill’s father, Stephen King, there are a few homages to The Stand: a mute boy named Nick, an unpleasant guy named Harold who keeps a hidden journal with some telling secrets, and an Evil man for evil men to rally around.
This is the first time I’ve ever felt the shadow of his famous father while reading Hill’s work. For his part, Hill is aware of it – on the first page under “Inspiration,” Hill writes (among other things) “Ray Bradbury, from whom I stole my title, [and] my father, from whom I stole all the rest.”
Which is not to say the book is a knockoff. Draco Incendia Trychophyton, or “Dragonscale,” is a perfect Hill creation; call it dream-logical, or the plausibility of the impossible. It’s also hard to imagine another writer capable of creating Camp Wyndham, a place where… well, I don’t want to give anything away. Let’s just say the road to hell is paved with good intentions, it’s better if you experience Camp Wyndham’s peculiar intentions for yourself.
Just don’t get too comfortable.
This epic novel has plenty of room for pathos. It’s a page-turner with more than a bit to say about immigration and bigotry, about zealotry and group-think (and even healthy relationships). It’s that rarest of beasts in the book world, but one that Joe Hill ropes and rides into town like it ain’t no thing – the Literate Thriller.
We’ve waited three years since NOS4A2; The Fireman does not disappoint.