5 Stars

** spoiler alert ** This book is EPIC. I must admit I was a little intimidated by the 760+ pages (I have read quite a few around the 700-1000 page size before but they always feel a little daunting at first). This huge brick of a book is well worth the effort though. 
A deadly pandemic is sweeping the world marking people with intricate gold and black patterns all over their bodies. Some people start smoking a little, some literally burst into flame and turn to ash. Our main character Harper is a nurse and in regular contact with the infection. When the first stripes of the scale appear on her body everything in her world is altered. Add to that the fact that she finds out she is pregnant, she is determined to survive long enough to deliver her baby. But she has to deal with her horrid husband, flee her home, overcome many obstacles and avoid the crews of people hunting the infected down. All while trying to learn how not to burst into flame and incinerate herself and her child.
Gripping and intense. I find the dragonscale spore and its transmission really compelling. I love all the different theories as to its inception. The almost hive-mind activity of the spore and the way it reacts to tribe acceptance type situations is intriguing.
Jakob is an intensely detestable character which surprised me, as at the very beginning he seemed so sweet and a little insipid – but what a monster lurking beneath. 
The fireman is really fascinating and I love the smoke/shadowplay aspect. Although I struggle with him being referred to as the fireman when he is nothing of the sort – just playing dress up. Also I am not entirely sure why the book was titled after this character – to me Harper feels like the central character and the most important person in the story – the fireman being an interesting secondary character – I think I would have preferred the title be something else like the spore, or dragonscale …not based on one of the characters.
There is an interesting collection and combination of side characters, I particularly like Nick and Allie. 
The camp has a slight lord of the flies meets religious cult feel to it. I’m not convinced that the singing yourself into a blind glowing state of euphoria is a good thing – seems a little too cultish.
I like that this story feels less like an apocalyptic tale and more a story about the many facets of humanity – both great and disturbing. How awful humans can be! But all throughout history we see people do atrocious things under the guise of keeping people safe. In reality we would probably all be capable of cruelty if we thought we were protecting those we love and keeping them safe. 

“it’s easy to dismiss religion as bloody, cruel, and tribal…. But it isn’t religion that’s wired that way – It’s man himself. At bottom every faith is a form of instruction in common decency. Different textbooks in the same class. Don’t they all teach that to do for others feels better than to do for yourself? That someone else’s happiness need not mean less happiness for you?

I haven’t convinced myself that I like the ending yet. I don’t see the point of sailing them out there just for that purpose – seems like a waste of time and resources. Not to mention the firemans fate, and the hopelessness of the island. Onward goes the struggle.
The only real issue i have is with the love story element. I really don’t feel anything more than mild interest between the two characters – i found it hard to believe that there was a deep love connection.
The character development is rich and intricate. Joe Hill is a writer whose words have the ability to grab you by the lapels and keep your nose pressed to the book til the last word. Very visual and thoroughly thought provoking. Loved it.

I’d like to thank the publishers for gifting me a copy of this book.

Goodreads Synopsis:

No one knows exactly when it began or where it originated. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one: Boston, Detroit, Seattle. The doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton. To everyone else it’s Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that marks its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks across their bodies—before causing them to burst into flames. Millions are infected; blazes erupt everywhere. There is no antidote. No one is safe. 

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse as pragmatic as Mary Poppins, treated hundreds of infected patients before her hospital burned to the ground. Now she’s discovered the telltale gold-flecked marks on her skin. When the outbreak first began, she and her husband, Jakob, had made a pact: they would take matters into their own hands if they became infected. To Jakob’s dismay, Harper wants to live—at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term. At the hospital, she witnessed infected mothers give birth to healthy babies and believes hers will be fine too. . . if she can live long enough to deliver the child.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their placid New England community collapses in terror. The chaos gives rise to ruthless Cremation Squads—armed, self-appointed posses roaming the streets and woods to exterminate those who they believe carry the spore. But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger she briefly met at the hospital, a man in a dirty yellow fire fighter’s jacket, carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known as The Fireman, he strolls the ruins of New Hampshire, a madman afflicted with Dragonscale who has learned to control the fire within himself, using it as a shield to protect the hunted . . . and as a weapon to avenge the wronged.

In the desperate season to come, as the world burns out of control, Harper must learn the Fireman’s secrets before her life—and that of her unborn child—goes up in smoke.