Worth The Cost – Joe Hill’s NOS4A2

Joe Hill has a lot of good press going for him.  For one thing, his father is Stephen King. But that’s a cheap way to lead in here.  Outside of their similar interests in horror and the macabre, they’re not terribly similar writers.  For one thing, I find Joe Hill to be almost immeasurably more interesting and enjoyable.

Horns was great and the comic series Locke & Key is also creepy, thought-provoking, and wonderful… and just about the only good thing IDW puts out (unless you’re really into Transformers or Star Trek comics… which I am not).

So how about NOS4A2?  Is it a hit? A miss?  Something in-between?  Read on to find out!

Joe Hill

William Morrow and Company
704 Pages
April 30, 2013

Note: Minor spoilers to follow!

NOS4A2 is Joe Hill’s first novel since 2010’s Horns and the time and effort he put into the book shows.  The characters are fully realized, the settings, even ones that are briefly visited, are memorable, and the plot moves very quickly for such a meaty, thick book.

Our protagonist is Victoria McQueen.  She rides a Raleigh Tuff Burner bicycle around Haverhill,  MA, being an average 9-year-old girl.  But average 9-year-old girls don’t generally have the ability to travel over a covered bridge in order to discover lost things.

Now if that were the only premise of the novel, it could have been interesting just on that.  In fact, the first 30-odd pages are some of my favorite in the novel.  Hill makes sure you get a feel for Vic from the start and the connection is almost instant.  I could have read an entire novel of Vic careening over The Shorter Way Bridge, always finding lost things and returning the to their owners.

But that’s not all this book is about.  Because, naturally, we have a villain.  Well, two villains, but the main one is Charles Manx.  Manx drives a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith (with the vanity license plate NOS4A2, of course) and uses it to kidnap children to take them away to Christmasland.  If you were ever freaked out by horror films like Black Christmas… you know what to expect.

Hill does a masterful job of raising the stakes, especially when Manx and Vic have their first major standoff about 200 pages in… and there’s still another 500 to go.  Like any good killer, Manx returns to continue his reign of terror on Vic and her family.

That’s all well and good. Like I said, I enjoyed the plot, the book moves quickly along, and Vic is a sympathetic, ass-kickin’ heroine that Hill writes in a way that makes the reader want to cheer her from the first chapter.

But Manx as a villain (and to a lesser extent, his partner in crime Bing Partridge) is almost comical.  And not in a good way.  Many of Manx’s scenes are melodramatic, almost vaudevillian. Perhaps this is the point, as he almost always has a smile on his face… except when Bing fucks up and requires discipline… or when he’s on the losing side.

Sometimes he seems frightening, but in other places Manx seems to border on ridiculous. For instance, when Manx comes back to life in a hospital morgue and proceeds to knock out and stick his finger up the ass of Ernest Hicks, the security guard, because apparently that was one of Hicks’s biggest fears?  Ugh…

I’m not going to lie.  I really want to not like the book, mainly for the overly hammy portrayal of the villains… and the whole Christmas theme just doesn’t strike me as particularly scary.

But the other characters really make the novel. A lot of surprisingly emotional moments come out of the interactions between Vic and her family. On top of that, the novel flows very quickly, especially for one that tops out at 700 pages.  If you’ve a taste for Christmas-themed horror and good protagonists… give NOS4A2 a try!

I feel I should let it be known that I received an Advance Reader Edition of this novel.  It was provided by the publisher with no expectation of a review… positive or otherwise.  Thanks bookstore, for always providing!

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