Man vs Bookshelf

Man vs Bookshelf: Firestarter

This entry is part 97 of 104 in the series Man vs Bookshelf

It’s been a good few weeks since I sat down and wrote the first draft of a blog at my desk at home, rather than on my lunch break at work. Yet, that’s what I’m doing now.

It’s nice, in a way. Bigger screen, more helpful keyboard, and no need to continuously flick between screens whenever anyone comes through the office door behind me because I’m ashamed of what I do with my free time.

It also means I won’t have to faff around with multiple drafts.

It’s funny, thinking back to when I first started this blog, how I used to go about it.

I would do three drafts, I think. One to get the words down. One in Grammarly to get rid of any mistakes, and one to add in all the pictures and to give it a final once over.

That was when I was younger, more innocent, and still in love with what I was doing. When I would write long sprawling blogs that weren’t, or tended not to be, crap.

But over the months of this challenge, I’ve grown jaded. I’ve come to resent this perceived need to write over a hundred blogs while I plough through 210 books.

I’ve never, it should be said, come to hate the main thrust of the challenge. The reading all my books bit. That’s good. But the blogging… oh, how I hate the blogging.

I’ve said before how I’ve tried to do many blog series in my time and always, without fail, have I given up. That’s just the sort of person I am. Unable to keep the momentum going on such projects.

Novels not included, apparently.

This is the flip side of that. The momentum and enjoyment have still gone out of this blog series, but I haven’t stopped. I’ve refused to let myself given up, instead writing on and on and on. Like a marathon runner who breaks both his legs halfway around and drags himself to finish line anyway, his tattered clothes and the blood from his scraped knees and stomach running along behind him like a snail trail of slime.

Along the way, I’ve found ways of not doing it correctly. At the beginning of this challenge, I was afraid I would not be able to write enough. That I would get down a couple of paragraphs and not know what to write next. After all, I always hated doing book reviews in school.

As it happened, this was not the case. Those first few reviews I did were glorious. They were long and well formed and brilliant. I surprised myself. I thought: yes, this is going to be alright.

But it wasn’t.

Well, it wouldn’t be, would it? This is life, after all.

It became more difficult as we went along. There were a few blogs that were only a few lines long, so I started thinking of ways to cheat the system. Once such way was writing about something else entirely and only linking it half-heartedly to the proper review (like when I did my stats round-up for this challenge instead of reviewing Freakonomics or Simon Pegg’s autobiography). Another was by putting multiple books together so I only really had to write about one of them.

I know, awful. Maybe I should have stopped.

But I never could. Never would. I’ve come so far. Too far to give up, and I want to get this done, properly or whatever the opposite of that is.

So here we are again, and maybe this will only be a one draft blog, but practice makes perfect when it comes to writing. With every novel I write, my writing improves. I get better and better and better.

I hate some of the blogs I’ve written. Despise them, even, but I have to think that it’s the same. That it’s improving my writing with every one. That I’m getting better.

Oh, don’t give me that look.

Stephen King

If you’ve read my last few blogs, you’ll know about this section by now. If you haven’t you, need to read my previous Stephen King blogs, all of what you can find below.

And once you’ve done that, which you haven’t, we can move on to…


When I came to write my review of The Dead Zone (which you’ve read because of the link above, right? right?!) I was already two-thirds of the way through Firestarter.

At the time I mentioned that these two books were not as famous as were the ones that proceeded them (Carrie, ‘Salem’s Lot, The Shining, The Stand) or the ones that followed (Cujo, Christine, Pet Sematary, It), and, as a result of this, I assumed both were going to be crap.

By the time I came to write The Dead Zone review, though, I had realised how wrong I was. The Dead Zone, I said was (review spoiler alert) possibly my favourite King book, along with Lisey’s Story. Having said this I claimed, though I didn’t want to speak too soon, that Firestarter might well end up top with those two as well.

Well, I can now confirm it did indeed.


The story revolves around a father, Andy, and daughter, Charlie, who are on the run from a government agency known as The Shop.

While at college, Andy and his future wife, Vicky, had participated in a Shop experiment (though they did not know it was such) that gave the latter minor telekinetic powers and the former, a much more powerful ability of “mental dominance” – the power to make people see, feel and do whatever you ask of them. They also develop limited telepathic and precognitive abilities.

Their daughter, Charlie, also develops telekinetic along with powerful pyrokinetic abilities. The big difference being there are no adverse effects to her when doing so, whereas using Andy’s ability (The Push) gives him incredibly bad migraines which can put him in bed for days or weeks.

The story begins with Vicky dead, and Andy and Charlie on the run and follows them through their attempts to escape, their eventual capture, and their lives back on The Farm, HQ of The Shop.

The Plot

As I’ve spoken about plot, and King’s disinterest in it, for every King blog so far, it seems foolish to stop now.

As mentioned last time, King considers The Dead Zone to be one of his most heavily plotted novels. With proper twists and turns and layers and stuff that go beyond character development.

That, I wasn’t sure about. I said it read more like a series of short stories about the same characters and, actually, Firestarter has a much more plot based feel to it.

What I love about this story is the way that plot flows. It is non-stop, right from the get-go. Beginning with Andy and Charlie literally running from a couple of Shop Agents.

This is a chase that carries on for the first 185 pages, building and building to an explosive set piece which takes place at a farm (not to be confused with The Farm, mentioned above).

Throughout this build up, King keeps dropping back into the past, as Andy remembers his first brushes with The Shop, how he met his future wife Vicky, and how his powers developed.

It’s beautifully threaded together in a way that gives us all the back story we need, without ever slowing the plot down, and the way it moves forward so naturally reminded me of what I loved so much about the Odd Thomas books.

Following the incident at the farm, there is a brief reprieve which allows the protagonists, antagonists and readers to catch their breath before Andy and Charlie are captured and taken to The Farm (and this time I do mean The Shop HQ).

From this point on, King is in his element, throwing in together all the things he does best.

First, developing and changing the major characters

Charlie is the focus of this book. She’s eight as it begins and near enough ten where it ends, but she goes through a lot in that time, and we watch her, go from dependant of her father to a prisoner, to someone we know is being manipulated, to someone in full control of the powers she has spent so much of the book being afraid of.

As with all of King’s characters, the transformation is immense but doesn’t seem unnatural, or unrealistic. As always we see everything we go through. We can feel her change, can understand it, and so it all feels like exactly what was supposed to happen.

Andy, too, goes through his change, and what King does so well here is slowly shift him from the primary character in the book to the secondary, after his daughter. A change which mirrors their change in status, as he goes from her protector to someone who needs her to save both himself and herself.

In the same way, we watch Charlie go more powerful and self-assured we see Andy grow weakened, both by the drugs he is fed by The Shop and by the effect his ability is having on him, though he rises again towards the end of the book.

Second, foreshadowing

Throughout the second half of the book, we know something terrible is going to happen. It is signposted again and again in that way King loves to do. Telling us a blackout will lead to destruction, and then showing us how it does. Warning us where the final showdown will take place, without allowing that warning to take away from said showdown. Something he achieves with his last trick…

Third, the multiple POV build up

One of the things that made Carrie stand out; made it such a success, was King’s use of various POV characters and scenes to draw out the suspense.

Just as we get Carrie onto the stage at the end of the prom, knowing the bucket of blood is going to fall on her head, and all hell breaks loose, he cuts away, showing us every angle, building the suspense further and further until…

It is the same here. As the final confrontation draws near King takes us from Charlie to Andy to Cap, the head of The Shop, to Rainbird, the psychotic killer desperate to take out Charlie, to Don Jules, head of the operation to stop the girl escaping, to OJ, a man who has already seen what Charlie’s fearsome powers can do and has no intention of getting in the way, to any number of other one chapter characters as he pulls closer and closer to the final.

It leads to a gripping final hundred pages, as the suspense it brought to almost unbearable levels before it is finally released.

Overall, this is a brilliant book. King at his best. No doubt about that.

Next Time

Next up we have the final fictional work of KIng’s to read…


Series Navigation<< Man vs Bookshelf: The Dead ZoneMan vs Bookshelf: Cujo >>
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International worst-selling author Mark Ayre has been writing since before he could pick up a pen (somehow). An author of mystery and suspense novels including the James Perry Series of mysteries.

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