I finally read my first two Joe Hill books this year. His father, Stephen King, has been my favorite author for years and I can be a little stuck in my ways so I wasn’t overly excited at checking his stuff out as I already had a favorite horror author & didn’t need another one. I figured there was no way he could top his dad’s stuff anyway.
It must suck being compared to your famous parents all the time but it’s impossible to ignore the fact that Stephen King is his father, especially when he’s gone into the exact same field as his dad with these two books. Well, neither of these books topped his dad’s work for me but they were still really good. Okay, I’ll admit that they top some of his dad’s not-so-good books but they’re not as good as King’s very best. Those here who have read & recommended these two books to me may be surprised at which one I liked more, though, and I’ll try to explain why. Let’s talk about them! 🙂
NOS4A2 by Joe Hill (aka U.K. title NOS4R2)
What It’s About: (from the back cover)
Young Victoria McQueen has a gift for finding things. All she has to do is ride her bike through the Shorter Way Bridge and she’ll come out wherever she needs to be… it’s an ability she keeps secret because no one would understand it. Until she discovers she’s not the only one with a special gift.
Charlie Manx takes children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with its NOS4R2 vanity plate, driving them away from their families, their homes, even their own humanity. When they reach their destination they’ve changed, utterly. They’ve become Charlie’s children: as unstoppable and insane as Manx himself.
Only one kid ever escaped Charlie Manx: Vic McQueen. But the end of that nightmare was just the beginning of their life-and-death battle of wills… a battle that explodes a quarter century later. Because now Manx has taken Vic’s son. And Vic McQueen is going to get him back. Or die trying.
**I first want to say it’s weird that this book is called NOS4R2 in the U.K. but I’ll use A2 for the review. I just wanted to share this story: I got this book from my husband & my daughter was curious about it. Obviously, it’s a nasty horror book not for kids so he told her it was about “C-3PO & R2-D2 on a quest to find a nose for R2, everyone’s favorite little droid“. Too cute.** 🙂
This book is definitely the better of these two, which I’m sure most everyone would agree with. I never read any book reviews online other than from a few bloggers I follow but I’m pretty sure I remember them saying this one was better… Although it contains one of the two topics I normally avoid in books & movies, children being harmed (rape being the other thing, which is in Horns), I did enjoy the book and found it to be an interesting & original story. I mean, it’s supernatural – I can handle “horror” and murder & all that stuff in the supernatural realm but I’m not the type you’ll ever find reading a “true crime” type of story. I don’t know – I can’t explain it. Maybe I’m weird. Or I suppose I can only handle evil when it’s not something that could happen in real life. But I do love the supernatural and this book has plenty of that. My favorite bits involved the main character, Vic McQueen, riding her bike through a covered bridge that only she can see in order to find things that people have lost.
The bridge and Vic as a child are in the first half of the book, which I found to be much stronger than the second half. I suppose it depends on what you prefer but I thought Hill did a better job setting things up in the first half of the book. Vic was a sympathetic child with a difficult life and it reminded me of the way in which Stephen King develops such rich characters and an overall setting that’s so real that it feels like you’re going to set down his book & then open your front door to find you’re in Castle Rock. I could so easily picture Vic’s “Shorter Way Bridge” and thought this book was on its way to being pretty damn fantastic at first. Unfortunately, as I often find with a lot of King’s work as well, it loses its way a bit halfway through as the action picks up and we see much more of the character of Charlie Manx. Like I say, though, it depends on what you want from a book and I’m sure many people prefer the second half – I just found myself losing interest in Manx’s story and found the book a little longer than was necessary.
I know I keep bringing up Stephen King in this review but that’s because NOS4A2 feels so much like a King book. Indeed, if you love King like I do, this is the Joe Hill book I’d recommend to you of these two. I think my main complaint is that it’s too similar to his dad’s work. We already have a Stephen King and he’s great so I don’t really want another one of him. I think that’s a big part of the reason why, although NOS4A2 is more well-written and has, I suppose, the more “accessible” storyline (as far as strange & supernatural stories go), I enjoyed Horns more. Horns is utterly bizarre and I can see why it would maybe be the less popular of these two but I felt like I was reading a book by a whole new author I’d never read before. I liked that!
NOS4A2 is a good book, though, so don’t let my somewhat negative-sounding review keep you from reading it if you think you’d like it. I just happened to read a King book (Revival) as well as this & Horns all within a few months of each other so I’m going to be comparing them all in my mind. I’ll be honest, though, and admit that this was better than Revival was overall, although I preferred a storyline that didn’t involve a child “murderer” (of sorts…). I can see why this is the Joe Hill book I’ve seen recommended the most.
My Rating: 4/5
Horns by Joe Hill
What It’s About: (from the back cover)
Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, he had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more – he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.
Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone – raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances – and Ig was the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, he was and always would be guilty.
But now Ig can hear people’s deepest, darkest secrets and means to use this ability to find whoever killed Merrin.
It’s time for a little revenge. It’s time the devil had his due.
I won’t talk about Stephen King in this review. Promise! Because this book doesn’t feel like a Stephen King book. Horns is, well, pretty damn bonkers. It’s a bit all over the place as well & seems to lack focus. Plus it gets pretty seriously “What the fuuuuuuck?” at the end.
Geez, I’m making it sound so good! Well, it’s not one that everyone will like but I enjoyed it quite a bit despite its obvious flaws. And there’s no being evil to children in this one! There’s a rape, however. I think Hill handles that bit alright (it’s not gratuitous from what I remember) but he makes the character of murdered Merrin far too “perfect” and the “ideal girlfriend”, which didn’t feel real. I didn’t exactly find any of the characters very well developed in this one beyond Ig and maybe his brother somewhat. I think I just really liked the story and the fact that I’ve never really read another one quite like it. I also have to say that I really liked the love story. That’s pretty typical of me – screw shit like The Notebook & give me a fucked-up love story instead!
I think I’ll keep this one short as I’ll probably be discussing it a little more when I review the movie next week. I can tell you now that the film adaptation started out so good then ended up so bad. What a disappointment! I suppose it was a difficult one to adapt, especially near the end when it gets so weird but they changed too much with certain characters.
As for the book, the characters are a little too one-dimensional but, hey, when you’re dealing with a guy sprouting Satanic horns out of his head, the purely good vs purely evil thing works out okay. I gotta say that Hill & his father must have a pretty low opinion of humanity – when Ig sprouts his horns & starts hearing people’s deepest & darkest thoughts, it seems that everyone is a complete asshole deep down if not a complete psycho. Normally this would annoy me (it’s why I actually hated King’s Under The Dome – those people were awful) but it somehow works in Horns. The main focus anyway is the love story between Ig and Merrin and then Ig’s desire to find her killer. It’s sort of a “revenge” story and I often like those. Especially a revenge love story.
Yeah… I’ve only just now realized why I liked this – it reminded me of The Crow (the movie), which I adore. I want a supernatural devil-man or a dead crow-man to avenge my death! That’s totally romantic. (The Crow is much better, though).
Oh shit – I mentioned Stephen King in this review after I promised I that wouldn’t. Oops.
My Rating: 4/5
Hey, everyone – it’s October tomorrow so I’ll be starting my October Horrorfest! I figure I can’t skip out on reviewing any big new non-horror releases for a whole month but, besides a couple of things like The Martian, it’ll be ALL HORROR, baby! And it’ll be truly horrific as I’ve unfortunately ended up watching a load of shit in preparation, which wasn’t my intention.
I’m going to stick with my little routine and have Tuesdays be my own IMDB Top 250 reviews (horror movies only) and Thursdays be Top Ten Lists (all horror-related of course). But I’ll be skipping Music Video Friday as there isn’t much I could do beyond Michael Jackson’s Thriller but, hey, my music video posts get no love anyway. Well, I love ’em! 😉 So, see you all tomorrow for my first Horror Top Ten of the month. 🙂