Book: The Fireman

"The Fireman"

No one knows exactly when or where it began. A terrifying new plague is spreading like wildfire across the country, striking cities one by one… Dragonscale, a highly contagious, deadly spore that tattoos its hosts with beautiful black and gold marks–before causing them to burst into flames.

Harper Grayson, a compassionate, dedicated nurse treated hundreds of infected patients before contracting the deadly virus herself. 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 now wants to live–at least until the fetus she is carrying comes to term.

Convinced that his do-gooding wife has made him sick, Jakob becomes unhinged, and eventually abandons her as their once-placid New England community collapses in terror.

But Harper isn’t as alone as she fears: a mysterious and compelling stranger, a man wearing a dirty yellow firefighter’s jacket and carrying a hooked iron bar, straddles the abyss between insanity and death. Known simply 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.

Halfway through The Fireman, I was already starting to piece together what my eventual blog post about the novel was going to be like; about the monstrosity in human beings, and the humanity that can be found in those perceived as monsters. This thesis stuck with me until I put the book down.

The thing is, when I started typing the book’s synopsis for this post, I found myself wanting to write about the synopsis instead. Because, while interesting and intriguing, the book synopsis is also misleading as to what the novel is truly about.

In it, we get a sense of the Fireman as this truly mysterious being whose presence will dictate whether the world would survive or fall to ashes. But The Fireman is about so much more than The Fireman, or Harper for that matter.

Imagine the comic book series of The Walking Dead. Imagine that you didn’t have to wait a month for each installment of the issue. Imagine the series if it weren’t being stretched out to last for as long as possible. (No shade. I still find The Walking Dead comic book series interesting and entertaining, unlike it’s television counterpart.) Imagine having an ending for The Walking Dead. Now take out the zombies, but keep the apocalypse, the factions, and the conflicts in what it takes to be human. That’s The Fireman.

It’s a study on humanity and monstrosity, and how we usually mistake one for the other because of appearances.

Joe Hill is a master at painting this world with just his words, all the while putting meaning behind the visuals he is drawing up for the readers. The way he describes the characters, their changes, and the relationships they create continuously push his message of solidarity, of compassion, and of so many other things.

Then you finish the novel and go back to the synopsis, and you can’t help but wonder: why the focus on just that? I understand the novel is called The Fireman, but why focus on just one aspect of his being? Why box Harper to just her relationship with Jakob?

Sure, Harper’s failed marriage with the unhinged Jakob plays a big part in how everything unfolds. And yes, the Fireman does have a big role in the story that is being told. But to limit the scope of the novel to just the two is doing the novel a disservice. Harper’s pregnancy and her relationship to Jakob, and the Fireman aren’t the be-all and end-all of this novel.

To anyone who has yet to read the novel, don’t bother reading the synopsis. The novel is wonderfully written, and is, in my opinion, Joe Hill’s most mature work yet. You won’t regret cracking the tome open and entering this world.

Book: Symbiont

"Symbiont"

The enemy is inside us.

The end began in a thousand places at the same time, sending little cracks through the foundation of mankind’s casual dominion over the Earth. It was born of hubris, and it started slowly, only to gather in both speed and strength as the days went by.

The SymboGen tapeworms were created to relieve humanity of disease and sickness. But the implants in the majority of the world’s population began attacking their hosts, turning them into a ravenous horde.

Panic spreads as these predators begin to take over the streets, and those who do not appear afflicted are gathered for quarantine. In the chaos, Sal and her companions must discover how the tapeworms are taking over their hosts–and how they can be stopped.

After a long time of waiting for Symbiont to be released here in the Philippines… I finally decided to just have Fully Booked order it for me. And I don’t regret it.

Granted, the book took a wee bit too long for me to dive back into the action. Mostly, I think, because it’s been so long since I read the first book, but also because the sequel doesn’t dive back into action. And it’s something that the characters themselves point out in the book. There is a safety cocoon surrounding the characters in the first third of the book, and it made me feel like nothing was happening.

I mean, yes, I understood the need to lay down foreshadowing, and world-building, and mythology-building… but there was just no sense of urgency in the first third. It wasn’t until the second third of the book kicked off that I started to feel that something was happening.

There were times when I felt Symbiont lost the edge that made me intrigued in the world Mira Grant was building with her Parasitology series. But the way Grant handles her main character, Sal, makes me want to continue holding on. Not because I cared about her, but because I was curious to find out what exactly she is–and why she’s different.

Grant doesn’t have strong characters in this series, but their gray moralities make them interesting enough that you don’t want to leave them behind. And that’s what made me keep reading Symbiont during the times when I was starting to feel bored at the lack of anything happening.

Sure, I understand that events can’t happen in rapid-fire succession. Things breathe. Plans take time to be built. And I commend Grant for not losing hold of a logical timeline. Or, at least, one that’s logical in her world. But I really, really hope that the last book in the Parasitology series is better paced than Symbiont.

Right now, I’m not understanding the need to expand this duology into a trilogy. Even if I am glad I get to spend more time dissecting the motivations of Sal, her allies, and her enemies.

Don’t be a Peter Jackson or a Christopher Paolini, Ms. Grant. Do the right thing: tell the story the way you intended for it to be told originally. And don’t let your falling in love with the research pull you into writing more than what you had planned.

Because I cannot be the only one who thought that Symbiont was overlong and overwrought. Right? Let’s see what other people wrote about the book:
Smart Bitches, Trashy Books
The Discriminating Fangirl
Booking In Heels

Book: Zom-B City

"Zom-B City"

After escaping a secret military complex amid the zombie apocalypse, B roams the streets of a very changed London, dirty and dangerous and eerily quiet, except for the shuffling of the undead. Once again, B must find a way to survive against brain-eating zombies–and now also against those who have seized control of the city. With danger lurking around every corner and no one to trust, B has to decide whether to join the creepy Mr. Dowling in exchange for his protection. When everyone around you is dead, where do you turn for help?

The synopsis makes it look as if there’s a lot happening in this book. That’s a lie. Zom-B City spends most of its pages on developing the character of our protagonist, whilst setting up the world that was hidden from us in the previous book.

Oh, and we get another creepy visit from the aforementioned Mr. Dowling.

To be perfectly honest, I think we could have done without this book. The entirety of this could be summarized into three or four chapters, and added into the previous book–or to the next one.

I kind of want to blame the format for this lackluster book. Author Darren Shan promised twelve books for the Zom-B series. He’s probably plotted out what happens in each book prior to writing the first one (or the second one). And he probably thought this third book would have more going for it. And then discovered too late that it wouldn’t be as plot-driven as he thought it would be.

I thought I wouldn’t mind, to be quite frank. Jonathan Maberry’s Flesh & Bone was not very plot-driven either, and I loved the book. But when I compare the third book of Rot & Ruin to Zom-B‘s, the latter comes up short. Because Maberry has us rooting for a group of characters who are dealing with grief, with changing world views, before delivering an emotional punch in the end.

Shan’s work, on the other hand, is more concerned about how the next twist is going to blow the minds off his readers. It’s a good thing that B, as a character, is very engaging.

It’s just harder to be invested in her, because there’s no sense of threat against B. She’s the solo character in a series. She doesn’t have any friends (not anymore) who we can like and feel scared for.

Zom-B has lost its emotional impact. And that’s not a good thing when your market is already being infested by a million other zombie titles.

But I’m not discounting the merits of the book. It’s still very well-written, and the characterization of B is still topnotch.

I just hope the next book would be better.

Now, let’s find out what other bloggers have said about the book:
Cheezyfeet Books
The Book Zone (for Boys)
The Book Gazer

Movie: World War Z

"World War Z"

The story revolves around United Nations employee Gerry Lane (Pitt), who traverses the world in a race against time to stop a pandemic that is toppling armies and governments and threatening to decimate humanity itself.” — (C) Paramount

It really helps to lower expectations when watching movies you’ve been looking forward to. Then again, it helps even more when the adaptation spins off a story that you’re not familiar with. It doesn’t invite comparisons.

That said, when I heard about World War Z being turned into a book, I was skeptical. I loved the format of the novel. I loved how it was vignettes set upon a post-apocalyptic future where people are hopeful, but more wary. Turned into a movie, I was expecting something akin to a documentary.

And then Brad Pitt and a big budget came into the picture.

Obviously, a documentary wouldn’t fare well in theaters as much as a blockbuster-formula movie would. So from the post-World War Z setting, the action was transplanted into the time when the plague was just beginning, but already spreading at an incredible speed.

It’s not perfect, but it succeeds at one thing: it’s compelling.

In the movie, we follow Brad Pitt’s character as he goes from country to country in search for an answer, any answer, to what people can do about the zombie plague. I found it odd that they chose to change the location of patient zero, but it wasn’t a jarring change. Just odd. The country they chose to move patient zero to still fit the profile of the original locale. Overpopulated.

The only thing I have against the new locale is its land coverage. I mean, the original locale was huge. It makes sense that the plague started slow and escalated. The new locale they chose for patient zero is known for being… cramped. The plague would have spread faster. No country would’ve been able to have prepared itself.

Well, except North Korea. And they kept that part from the book.

I’m not a fan of how they solved the zombie problem too. But that doesn’t take away from my overall enjoyment of the film, so I guess it’s not a major qualm for me. What’s important is that, even after getting annoyed at the number of ads that preceded the movie, I enjoyed it. And I didn’t feel like I wasted the money I spent on the movie ticket.

So well done, World War Z.

Now, I’m going to read the book again because I still like it better. Ha ha.

Before I completely go though, I have to raise this concern: why are SM Cinemas showing ads before they start airing the film you go in for? We’ve already paid for the film with our ticket, why do we have to pay for it again by watching the ads?

Book: ZOM-B

"ZOM-B"

When the news starts reporting a zombie outbreak in Ireland, B’s father thinks it’s a hoax–but even if it isn’t, the two of them joke, it’s only the Irish, right?

That is, until zombies actually attack the school. B is forced on a mad dash through the serpentine corridors of high school, making allegiances with anyone with enough gall to fight off their pursuers. But when they come face to face with the ravenous, oozing corpses, all bets are off. There are no friends. No allies. Just whatever it takes to survive.

First of all, the fact that B is a girl took me completely by surprise.

Oh, don’t worry. That’s not really a spoiler. Or, at least, I don’t think so. Her gender doesn’t affect the story much, except how you look at the events prior to the reveal. It actually makes the novel better, come to think about it now.

But before you’re fooled into thinking that this is actually a novel about zombies–it’s not. Well, it is. There are zombies in this book, but this book is not about zombies.

It’s about B. And her dad. And her mom. Her friends. How she chooses her friends. How she forms her relationships, and how she makes decisions, because of her dad, her mom, and her friends.

This book is about B, a girl who has to live up to the demands and expectations of her father. The father she loves. The father she hates.

And ZOM-B is a brilliant book. About the psyche of a troubled child, about racism, and how it’s harder to see the monster in us than it is to see the ones that surround us.

Oh, and sure, the zombies aren’t very original. Author Darren Shan does add a new twist into the mythology, but for the most part, the zombies aren’t that interesting. But then again, we don’t really read zombie novels for the zombies, do we?

We read these kinds of novels for the humanity. The people who inhabit this world that has gone crazy.

And Darren Shan has created a marvelous character study with his protagonist: B.

I’ll probably just continue gushing about how brilliant the character is, so I’ll end this hear–and leave with you with some links that would actually have reviews:
Alexander Gordon Smith
Totally Bookalicious
Miss Literati

I read through their reviews, and I thought it would be worth mentioning to note that Miss Literati seems to have mistaken B for the first character we meet. Just thought I’d point that out.

Book: Dead of Night

"Dead of Night"

A prison doctor injects a condemned serial killer with a formula designed to keep his consciousness awake while his body rots in hte grave. But all drugs have unforeseen side effects. Before he can be buried, the killer wakes up. Hungry. Infected. Contagious. This is the way the world ends. Not with a bang…but a bite.

I was going to say something about this book in relation to a series of books that author Jonathan Maberry has written. And then I realized how much a spoiler that was going to be. So I’m going to hold that thought back and give you my assessment of this book without relation to any other stories.

The book was nice. Better as it came closer to its end, but that’s not to say that it wasn’t good before then. Well, it was a tad slow-paced. Much slower paced compared to Maberry’s other books. But, in this case, it helped in establishing character.

Weird thing though–

The events described in this book all happened within a day. It felt much longer. The book, after all, only kicked into high gear near the end.

But I still liked it.

My gripe against Michael Grant’s Gone books, with its series of red shirts who die as soon as they’re introduced, gets turned in its head in this book. We get red shirts, and they too die way too quickly; but while they don’t provide traction to the development of the characters we’re following, they don’t detract from them either. In fact, their little stories help in coloring this world in better.

Later on, this even serves as a character upgrade for one of the main protagonists.

My other gripe against the Gone series, with its some times too separate story lines is how, in this book, the stories are still tied together at its core. There are no separate concerns that one set of characters are involved in that doesn’t, in one way or another, connect to the concerns of the other characters.

If there’s anything to complain about in this book, it’s that we don’t get as many updates on a couple of peripheral characters who play a bigger part near the end.

Oh, and the missing time between a certain character’s disappearance to his reappearance later on in the book. This touches on a whopper of a spoiler though, so I don’t know how I’m going to discuss this…

Basically, a character leaves. Starts moving. And yet ends up in a place that another character reaches in a shorter time. While partly walking there. I’m sure there’s an explanation, but I thought the ribbon was a bit too perfectly tied on that bow.

I realize that that statement makes absolutely no sense unless you’ve already read the book. Which you should.

Don’t believe me? Then check out what other people have to say too!
Fantasy Book Critic
Speculative Fiction Junkie
Enough is Enough

And I just realized how I started with I’m not going to compare this to other books and proceeded to do that anyway. Oops.

Book: The Kill Order

"The Kill Order"

Before WICKED was formed, before the Glade was built, before Thomas entered the Maze, sun flares hit the earth and destroyed the world mankind took for granted.

Mark and Trina were there when it happened, and they survived. But surviving the sun flares was easy compared to what came next.

Now a disease of rage and lunacy races across the eastern United States, and there’s something suspicious about its origin. Worse yet, it’s mutating, and all evidence suggests that it will bring humanity to its knees.

Mark and Trina are convinced there’s a way to save those left living from descending into madness. And they’re determined to find it–if they can stay alive. Because in this new, devastated world, every life has a price. ANd to some, you’re worth more dead than alive.

I thought there would be more to The Kill Order than what we get, but for what it’s worth, it’s a good book–just don’t expect too much.

The Maze Runner is one of the best novels I’ve read recently, but I thought the sequel and the finale didn’t live up to the promise of the trilogy’s premise. Especially since the source of all the discord and drama barely gets touched upon. So I was happy that there was The Kill Order to fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately–or fortunately, depending on how you look at it–James Dashner focuses on human interaction instead of conspiracies. And so our supposed answer, The Kill Order, to the questions left behind by The Maze Runner trilogy falls short of actually answering questions. What we’re left with, after the trials and misadventures we take in this prequel, are suppositions of what might have happened in between the end of this book, and the beginning of The Maze Runner.

Now, I’ve always harped about how character development is more important than original twists and turns. And if we’re judging The Kill Order by character development alone, it hits full marks. But take the book out of the its environment, take The Maze Runner trilogy out of the equation, and you get a story about a boy who would do anything to save the girl he loves. It’s nothing special. And set in the background of a Post-Flare world, you would have no idea what was going on unless you’ve already read the trilogy that spawned this prequel.

While character development is important, I think it’s also important for a prequel to be able to stand apart from its series–especially if it’s populated by unknown characters, and happens before the events of the series that warranted it.

So would I recommend The Kill Order? Sure. If you’re already a fan of The Maze Runner trilogy–or, at the very least, have already read the series. If you haven’t, you might want to skip this one until after you have done so.

Of course, as I always say, all these are just my thoughts. Feel free to browse the ‘net to find what other people have to say about the book:
I’d So Rather Be Reading
Blog Critics
My Books. My Life.