Heart-Shaped Box and Horns author Joe Hill takes a step away from horror with this post-apocalyptic doorstop of a novel, but it’s not so big a step that we forget who the author is. Although there are no serial killers, ghosts or Satanic gifts, this is classic Hill, and fans of his work will want to seek this out.
This end of the world comes courtesy of mass spontaneous combustion, as humankind is infected by Dragonscale. You smoke, then you explode. When nurse Harper Grayson discovers that she’s not only infected, but also pregnant, she chooses to survive, escaping her abusive partner with help from dashing a English Fireman and arriving at Camp Wyndham. Here, the infected survive and thrive, but it never takes much for a tight-knit community to turn nasty.
Readers expecting something totally non-horror may be slightly taken aback by the shocking opening to the book, as a man gruesomely catches light in front of a school playground. Hill’s not pulling any punches here, but the really insidious creepiness comes from the oppressive forces pushing and pulling at our heroine. Harper moves from one suffocating environment to another as she escapes her increasingly threatening partner, but finds that something disconcerting is lurking in the background of Camp Wyndham.
It’s a little overlong, but Harper is a deeply sympathetic protagonist, and Hill knows when to tighten the screws. There are very well-drawn characters, some serious shocks, a great sense of humour and a willingness to break hearts as well as raise pulse rates. It’s another ambitious effort.7