The world has gone up in flames.
A disease known as Dragonscale has begun ravaging the world. It begins as black marks on the skin with gold flecks throughout it. Eventually it progresses throughout the body and the end result is spontaneous combustion. The average length of life after contracting it is roughly 2 months. Many basic social services have been shut down or severely stunted as a result of the chaos that this brings; electricity in most places comes and goes, firefighters can do little to contain the fire that spreads through cities as a result of people catching fire at all times of the day, looting abounds.
Rumors abound of a man known as the Fireman. He is said to have harnessed the Dragonscale. He is one of the long term cases that has lived with it since almost the beginning and can even use it to create and shoot fire.
Harper Grayson discovers that she has caught Dragonscale less than two weeks after the day she discovers that she is pregnant. Her husband panics and Harper, determined to find a way to live long enough to have her baby, runs away with the help of the Fireman, before he can do something to hurt her or the baby. The Fireman takes here a group of people that have found a way to live with the disease but it is not exactly a paradise.
This book was an interesting take on an apocalypse story. Rather than focusing on the worldwide happenings the story zooms in on one group and how life is in the changing, devastated world. There are so many stories of people coming together in times like this, everyone joining in for the common good and doing their best for the survival of the human race. This book went a little more Walking Dead, instead showing insane mistakes in judgement that people can make when such things have deeply traumatized them, mistakes made with good intentions but very obviously harmful dangerous.
For example, there is a would-be murderer in the camp that Harper joins after running away. The fear that this brings is not handled well and leads the leader of the camp into turning the group almost into a cult, where people have to “pay penance” for the smallest of transgressions by holding a stone in their mouth for a certain length of time. If that time happens to overlap a meal, they do not eat. For several reasons Harper finds this barbaric and refuses to go along with it but this only raises the tension in the camp.
As for characters, they are well written but not perfect. Most of them are pretty well-rounded but Harper herself felt rather two-dimensional until probably about halfway into the book. That is a long time to go with a dull main character and it did feel like the story suffered for it. The story slowed down a lot when she arrived at the camp and having trouble feeling connected to the main character made it a little bit of a chore to get through some parts.
The Fireman, John Rookwood, the same can be said for. He was a badass and probably the only comedic relief the book had to offer. But although he is the title character the book did not ever seem like it was about the Fireman. His love story with Harper was a little unnecessary. Honestly, he spent a lot of the book “off screen” as Harper was dealing with other things so their relationship felt a little forced.
I sit here writing this review being very hard on it but I did really enjoy it. All of the above is true but it didn’t actually bother me that much because the story was engaging and the author did manage to get my heart beating pretty fast during the final few chapters.
Probably the only thing that actually bothered me was John Rookwood’s deceased girlfriend, Sarah. The author put some effort into making a disease that causes people to burst into flames somewhat scientific. Obviously it will never happen but I appreciated the work he put into making such a far fetched thing seem possible. Then comes Sarah, who died in a fire before we met the Fireman. He preserved the flame that killed her and keeps it a live in his cottage fireplace which keeps her consciousness somewhat alive.
This was used in the story towards the end but no explanation was given for why it was possible, except for one part where John talks about being able to put part of his consciousness in the flames that the creates. But there is no reason for it to continue on after she has died.
This was just such a big plot hole where everything else about the book was stitched up pretty well.
I am definitely glad I read it though and may end up rereading it. Would not be surprised if this ended up a movie.