Firstarter (Stephen King 1980)


Yes, it’s another Stephen King novel. I’ve had Firestarter about as long as The Dead Zone which I reviewed and I’ve only just finished it. The novel essentially revolves around a girl named Charlie McGee and her father Andy. The characters are on the run from a mysterious government organisation known as The Shop due to having supernatural powers. Andy as an ability known as “the push” which allows him to influence people’s mind while Charlie has pyrokinesis, the power to start fires with her mind. The story veers between the past and the present, showing not just the two on the run but also their origins and how they came to be on the run in the first place.

In terms of story I originally found the in media res style opening took a bit of getting used to at first. The story throws you in it and introduced you to a lot of stuff without explaining why it is happening. Yet it also had the effect of introducing the reader straight away into a tense situation and the decision to have such an opening increasing the drama of the story in many ways. The decision made the story more intense and exciting when compared to how it would had it started telling the story chronologically. In fact the gradual drip feed of information about their past, particularly about Charlie’s mother, served to add to the mystery and thrill of the story.

Character wise Charlie seems to spend a lot of the story scared and confused, understandable considering she is only a young girl. Even so she spends a lot of the story needing to be rescued by Andy. However a compelling aspect of this is that her power can easily kill people and she feels bad about using it. However there are times throughout the novel that Andy wants her to use it, which creates a moral dilemma. Namely, is it right to subject a child to those kind of horrors even if it is saving you from life inside a facility being experimented on? By contrast Andy feels like a bit of a jerk to me at times since he wants her to essentially kill people even though she is still young. Yet at the same time you feel his plight since if they get caught they will be subject to something much worse.

One thing that made me uncomfortable was the assassin Rainbird, who is brought in by the Shop during the course of the novel to help in their hunt and quickly becomes the central antagonist of the book the the point where he even takes over from the rest of the Shop as the main villain towards the end. His borderline pedophilic obsession with Charlie left me feeling unsettled in all the scenes in which he appeared. Not in the good way either, this villain made me feel sick in the stomach. Nothing concrete was there but the subtext within his scenes was over abundant in my perspective. This creepy obsession with Charlie, a young girl, made me wish for his death soon. This made him overshadow the over villains to the point where there was no other way but for him to usurp the other villains for his character arc to be complete. In reality though I think he should have been killed off much sooner so the story could have moved on to a villain who wasn’t quite as sick in the head.

The pacing of the story was okay but there were slow elements. In particular the part where Charlie and Andy are captured by The Shop felt slow compared to the rest of the book and the climax seemed to lack a certain air about it. The Shop suddenly became crazy incompetent so that Rainbird could take over as the villain, with its key members quickly falling under the thrall of Andy’s “push”, which I found disappointing. After a brief escape and some drama the ending sort of peters out before skipping to a rather boring and generic epilogue. Something sort of left around the climax and for some reason I became a lot less invested in the story once the end rolled around.

Overall the story was mostly okay. Despite being sick in the head to the point where he made me uncomfortable, Rainbird was a good villain. This was in part because of Stephen King’s excellent writing. The story as a whole just felt a bit slow in paces and perhaps if the key villain of the story was someone within The Shop I might have felt more satisfied with the ending. The parts about Charlie’s power was intriguing and the fact that she doesn’t want to use it even more so since this is something which she sticks to right up until the climax. It was a good story in places, I just felt some bits were missing.

SCORE: 3.5/5



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