At this point you know exactly what you’re getting from a Stephen King novel; fear, suspense, spiritual connections and a sinister plot that will lead somebody towards a higher power.
In the case of Firestarter, these are as prominent as ever, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s the reason we pick the books up in the first place, right? Because we know what we’re getting into.
Centred on the experiments of an unknown drug, ‘Lot Six’, Andy is administered with the drug alongside another volunteer subject, Vicky. They fall in love and live happily ever after. The end. Oh, if life were so simple.
They fall for each other, get married and have a daughter, Charlie.
It’s understood that the experiment gave each an individual supernatural ability. Andy can push people to do things by planting thoughts into their heads. Still, the side effect is a troublesome headache that worsens the harder he pushes.
Vicky can move small objects with her mind, such as turn off the TV or close the fridge door. This effect of the drug came on slowly, so she isn’t aware that she’s doing it half the time.
Given their abilities, it’s only natural that they pass on a piece of their mutations to their daughter, who has developed the ability to produce fire with her mind – pyrokinesis.
When Vicky is killed in a car accident, Andy goes on the run with Charlie fearing the government-funded shop are after him.
There are plenty of conspiracies playing out in Firestarter; King even admits in the afterword that there are a lot of government experiments going on that we don’t know about.
Given his latest tirades on Twitter, it’s difficult not to frame him as the crazy old guy wearing the tin-foil hat. Separating the two will give the book greater enjoyment.
Personally, I never came out with the subtext of a secret organisation working on behalf of the American government. My only intent was to judge it as a pure Sci-Fi Horror that will entertain and occasionally make me think.
Similarities can be made to King’s later novel, Carrie, in which a teenage girl develops paranormal capabilities through intense trauma.
The problems in this book start to show as Andy and Charlie travel across the land, searching for a place to hide – except, there isn’t one. Nowhere is out of reach from the regime.
From a narrative standpoint, this does start to feel stretched and repetitive, given that there’s no real deadline. They could run forever and be safe or caught and experimented on further.
Either way, caring for them is a thin veil, especially when Charlie gets little development in the first half of the book.
While I did enjoy Firestarter from a pickup and read perspective, it’s not as profoundly intense or emotionally engaging as say Needful Things.
Equally, the horror aspects are lacking, and the gore levels are certainly kept to a minimum.
It’s not a bad book, but it’s also not one of Stephen King’s best. For that reason, if you’re new to either him or the horror genre, start elsewhere.
If you’ve read King’s early work, then Firestarter is much of the same. The values on offer here are close to those found in Carrie, another young woman with supernatural abilities.
Firestarter isn’t a must-read by any means, but it is an enjoyable story to pass by a bland weekend.