Joe Hill’s The Fireman may be the author’s most ambitious novel yet. He tackles the end of the world after the onset of a spontaneously combustive pandemic called Draco Incendia Trychophyton. This fiery apocalypse is told largely through the point of view of a Julie Andrews-obsessed nurse named Harper Willowes, whom you will adore within pages of her introduction. Harper’s tough, smart, plucky, reasonable, deeply kind and a person who suffers no foolishness. She’s Mary Poppins with a dirty mouth. She’s a dreamboat.
Folks are saying that The Fireman is Hill’s The Stand, and he’s certainly not eschewing the comparison to his father’s magnum opus, with some pretty thrilling Easter eggs scattered throughout the novel. There’s a deaf kid named Nick and a chubby, petulant loser named Harold Cross. Those are only two of the more egregious allusions, and The Stand isn’t Hill’s only point of reference (nor is King, as Harry Potter fans will find much to love here, as well): Harper’s pleased to find a retro soda called Nozz-A-La, for one.
Though it’s tempting to list every King citation in The Fireman, Hill’s long since proven that he possesses a skill his father lacks (and I’m saying this as lovingly as a lifelong Stephen King nerd possibly can): economy. The Fireman trucks along at a brisk pace, barreling toward its surprising yet inevitable conclusion. Every page of this book is a joy, but the ending in particular is breathtaking. It’s a beautiful tribute to life, to the sacrifices we make in the name of love that don’t actually feel much like sacrifices at all when it comes down to it.
If you’re a Stephen King fan or a horror fan in general, and you haven’t yet picked up a Joe Hill book, do it. It probably doesn’t do enough justice to Hill or King to view the son this way, but I can’t help but feel incredibly lucky to live in a generation that has a young, energized Stephen King-style writer at the top of his game, one who isn’t averse to vigorous editing and who knows how to write women. Each of Hill's novels is a gift, and The Fireman is, so far, his greatest gift to us constant readers yet.