Opening into an evolving new world where people are suffering from a highly contagious illness that causes them to burn from within when stressed, the pace is fast and we’re desperate for details. Enter cool headed school nurse Harper Grayson who is one of those remarkable people who manages to keep it all together in times of crisis.
As the world burns, small town Harper is introduced to the Fireman, a man who has mastered his condition and is intent on not letting it take the life of those he cares about. Camp Wyndham where John and his friends have fled to is a refuge for the afflicted but it’s a still a very troubled one. As alliances are formed and the food begins to run out, life is suddenly a lot more fraught for Harper and her unborn child.
Hill writes with confidence but there are assumptions made on his readers; a bit more clarification between the actuals and the fantastic would have been appreciated; in many of the action scenes of John (for example) we are not sure whether some of his fiery weapons are born from himself ie in the supernatural realm of his new capabilities, or if they are something more mechanical that he has created as a ruse.
Let’s talk size. The epic novels generally are also doorstoppers; we get that they require the commitment. What THE FIREMAN actually needed was a savage edit. We are quite caught up in the how the whole world is going down but if we’re investing in such a weighty novel, we need to see the disintegration of society on a grander scale. If the novel had to be confined to one town, perhaps it would have served the novel better to have a whole town story with multiple perspectives. This book has a lot of meandering filler which wasn’t required. It got at times a little insular and suffocating. With some tightening up, we may just have had the reader powering through, gratifyingly sure that there is a terrific battle or insight just around the corner.
Let’s talk characters! When they are facing the end of the civilized world, we really want to care about the survivors. It is hard to find anyone to empathize or care too much about in this novel. Our heroine makes a stupendously idiotic decision right at the start which affects her safety and mobility for the rest of the book. She compounds this soon after with another clanger. Everyone in her new community is either creepy or intent on living in a bubble when common sense would dictate they move the heck along before the town’s self-appointed saviours tracks them down.
THE FIREMAN for sure has that post apocalyptic wonder (who will survive, how will they survive?) and does a good job of conveying the fear and confusion in one pocket of the world as it all goes to hell. It doesn't quite balance the divide between horror and science fiction but will be the one to read when you are wanting to leave the world behind and be an observer in another possible version of our own.