Book Review: Firestarter

‘Life is short and pain is long and we were all put on this earth to help each other…’

I’m pretty sure that the first Stephen King book I read was IT when I was somewhere around 12 years old. You will notice, dear reader, that I am vague on the details. This is because the ravages of time have indeed taken hold and small but important details like my first Stephen King encounter have become lost in time like tears in rain. As my love for all things King has come roaring back with a vengeance in recent months (shout out to the Losers Club podcast), I have started working my way through everything of his that I missed the first time around. And so, to Firestarter

Firestarter is a book that never called to me back in the day in the same way that The Shining or Misery. It’s not a straightforward horror book for a start and I’ve always seen it as too similar to Carrie to really get excited about. In the end, while it is definitely lower-tier King, I still mostly enjoyed it…

After volunteering for a medical experiment, Andrew McGee and Vicky Tomlinson fall in love, get married and have a kid. After they develop strange powers, it is clear that their daughter Charlie is more powerful than anyone could have dreamed. The Shop, a shady government organisation led by the unscrupulous Captain Hollister, pursues Andrew and Charlie through a crazed half-Indian hitman named John Rainbird.

It is worth noting that while this isn’t a horror novel, there are certainly elements of horror within it. The image of a university student clawing their own eyes out due to a bad reaction to the fictional drug Lot Six stayed with me for weeks after finishing the book, as did the description of a man who commits suicide by putting his arm in a garbage compactor after receiving a psychic ‘push’ that caused him to unravel. These moments aside, however, this is a pretty straightforward sci-fi fable, and while Andy and Charlie are likeable enough characters, the rest of the ensemble doesn’t really make much of an impression. Characters are introduced, fleshed out and then dropped entirely, we spend far too much time with Rainbird with little satisfaction and the ending… has not aged well. Read the final page and you’ll see what I mean.

While Firestarter wasn’t my favourite King book by any means, there is still enough here to recommend it for longtime fans. Newcomers to King’s writing should look elsewhere, however. There is plenty to choose from.