A deadly spore is on the loose in the world. No one knows where it started or where it came from, but it’s spreading. It’s known as Dragonscale by regular people like you and me. Doctors and scientists have dubbed it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. Highly contagious, though no one knows how it spreads. It’s a deadly spore that marks the infected with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies. Those infected with Dragonscale face a horrific death, they burst into flame and burn to death. There is no antidote, there is no cure. And it’s spreading more rapidly than anyone would have thought or expected. Millions are infected and society begins to collapse.
Harper Grayson is a compassionate school nurse who begins working in the hospital after watching a man with Dragonscale combust right in her schoolyard. Pragmatic and no nonsense, she embodies Mary Poppins, dispensing advise and treatment with a spoonful of sugar attitude. She treats hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burns to the ground. Now she’s discovered that she has the tell-tale markings of the spore. Not only that, she’s also discovered that she’s pregnant. She goes back on the agreement that she and her husband made when the outbreak started. They had originally agreed on a suicide pact, but now with her unborn fetus at risk, she backs out on the plan. She watched infected mothers give birth to healthy children, she believes that her child will be healthy too.
Her husband quickly becomes unhinged and abandons her as their community begins to fall apart. In the chaos, the Cremation Squads begin to rise. Armed posses that prowl through the streets, looking for those infected with Dragonscale. These self-appointed mobs methodically destroy anyone infected with the spore. They are also hunting down The Fireman, a man infected with Dragonscale who seems to have gained control over the spore and instead of immolating, seems to be able to send the fire outward. He uses this ability to shield the infected from these mobs. He helps lead Harper to the safety of a small group of infected people who have formed a community. These people have learned how to live with the spore and not only keep themselves from burning to death, but they have seemingly thrived together.
The world is dying. Harper just wants to stay alive, learn about this spore that has taken over her body, learn how to control and use the spore and somehow bring a healthy child into the world.
I was actually surprised by my reaction to this book. I’d been impatiently waiting for this book to come out. I’d been blown away by NOS4A2 and couldn’t wait for the next Joe Hill book. I plowed through it pretty quickly, so the story definitely kept me interested and kept me coming back. But the whole time I was reading, I kept coming back to one thought…eerie similarities to another book where a disease is wiping out the population. Even the characters themselves were similar to the characters in this book. If you’ve ever read The Stand you’ll see what I’m talking about. This did not take away from The Fireman, but it was a little eerie.
The story is well-written and fluid, there are rarely any spots where the story drags. The action is great and very few times are you asked to completely suspend belief, everything feels very real. It feels like this could happen to you and your family and how would you react? But having a woman, eight months pregnant, run around climbing roofs and ladders, jumping to and from was a bit of a stretch.
I think where this story suffers is with the characters. Many of them are frustrating and infuriating. Especially Harper and John, two of the main protagonists of the story. Both have a lack of backbone and passivity that borders on the insane and annoying. It takes them far too long to grow a pair. Especially Harper. I wanted to smack her and shake her more than once.
There are truly some points of humor and that really made the epic more enjoyable. When Harper reads her husband’s unpublished novel, it was nearly laugh out loud funny. She learns that he’s a total schmuck and she was a doormat. But then doesn’t learn from that mistake. Sigh. And Martha Quinn Island is so “out there” that it never failed to instill a case of the giggles.
For all its faults, The Fireman is still a good novel, well-written with a very good plot device, Dragonscale. And the human element is very believable. What would you do to survive? That question came up over and over while I was reading. And I still don’t know the answer. Would I go up in flames or would I have the courage to find a way to control the burning…