In this dense and creative thriller, the worldwide apocalyptic event is actually a fungal infection that covers its victims in black and gold markings and causes them to spontaneously combust. That’s a new one, right? The public calls it Dragonscale, “the ‘Scale” for short. Adding the destructive power of fire to an already dystopian environment considerably ups the tension quotient!
Our heroine is Harper, a married nurse, who spends the early part of the novel caring for the infected and trying to hold her marriage to Jakob together. When she becomes infected, her marriage crumbles, and she flees, finding rescue with The Fireman, a fantastically bright and sarcastic mysterious figure. The Fireman leads her to a group of ‘Scale patients, attempting to stave off their demise in a peaceful community known as Camp Wyndham. There, Harper learns of ways to potentially survive the ‘Scale, if the community can keep out of the way of the violent and dangerous collapsing world beyond.
I read a lot of dystopian, and a fair amount of thrillers (I cut my teeth on Stephen King, and Joe Hill is his son). I was struck by the hopeful vibe of this novel, amid terrifying scenes of violence and destruction. One of the characters even references the pervasive dread and sorrow in other dystopians, mentioning The Road specifically,: “I read a Cormac McCarthy novel once, about the end of the world. People hunting dogs and each other and frying up babies, and it was awful. But we need kindness like we need to eat. It satisfies something in us we can’t do without.”
The novel lost it’s momentum early in the second third before getting back to its groove at the end, but overall, this was a great read and I’d like to read more from Mr. Hill.
+ 1,000,000 points for a strong female lead
+ Eleventy Billion Infinity points for lots of references to Dire Straits’ Romeo and Juliet