The Fireman by Joe Hill

Harper Willowes is an anglophile nurse as an epidemic of a pyromaniacal fungus ravages the world. When she finds she’s pregnant, and also infected with the fungus, she has to seek refuge and keep her unborn child alive.

The central conceit, an apocalypse written from the pov of the zombie/infected balances a warmth and compassion with a ferocity of spirit and craft. Hill lets his pop culture influences inform the writing, and it adds a percussive layer of character and adds a poignant reminder of what was lost, but he doesn’t spare you the horror.

The worst monsters are human, after all. Hill has a tenderness of spirit which makes the harsher aspects resonate in ways which stay with you long after the final page.

In terms of world building, the macguffin of the fungus is smart and allows you to empathise and invest with the infected, good and bad. Hill also uses different textures of storytelling to build a mutually beneficial relationship between story, language and character.

Ben Percy, in his book of writing essays, Thrill Me, talks about writing which welds genre conventions and obligatory scenes with the language and characterisation of literature. For a nerd in remission, Hill puts this hypothesis onto paper and it sings.

The rights to the book are with a studio and it demands a big, epic production to do it justice. But, if you’re like me, read the book and also the audio book, which is a masterwork in its own right, with Kate Mulgrew giving a performance which makes you ache with tenderness and revolt against the worst aspects of the heart.

It is a great book with heart and horror, it burns long after the last page.

My book Until She Sings is out now.



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