23rd Dec2014

Book Review: ‘NOS4R2′

by Chris Cummings

Written by Joe Hill | Published by Gollancz | Format: Paperback, 704pp

NOS4R2

I am a fan of Joe Hill. His novels, Horns and Heart Shaped Box, are two books I have read a number of times and always enjoy. His collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, is a great mixture of tales, and his work on the comic book series, Locke & Key, is formidable. I was excited, then, when NOS4R2 was released, his newest adult-fantasy-cum-horror novel.

The story is very Hill-esque from the get-go. His delivery of comic-book type horror and dark fable makes for an interesting and modern style that I find very appealing. The story follows Victoria, a young girl with a knack for finding lost things when she rides her bicycle over an old bridge near her home. Riding across the bridge, a bridge that, to her, feels otherworldly and odd, allows her to find herself in the place she needs to be, the place where she finds the lost or missing pieces of something, be it an item or the answer to a question that she is seeking. She keeps this strange secret to herself. We also meet Charles Manx, a man who takes children for rides in his Rolls-Royce Wraith (with the license plate NOS4R2) to the astonishing place he calls Christmasland. The children find themselves maddening as they travel the twisted imagination of Manx, and the only child to ever escape is Victoria.

The story continues some time later with Victoria attempting to forget the evil of Manx, while Manx himself is unable to forget the child who escaped him long ago. He is after revenge in a tale that turns into a fight between good and evil and a battle of wills. Dark, trippy, surreal and with more twists than the bizarre roads that exist in Charles Manx’s head.

Joe Hill has done a tremendous job, once more, at creating a creepy journey filled with modern fear and peculiar fantasy. With a villain that makes your skin crawl and puts a dark cloud over the innocence and cheer of Christmas, he is explained in such a way that will haunt you as you read. I love that about Hill’s work. He did the same in Heart Shaped Box, sending uncomfortable shivers down my spine, and he accomplished it here also. The set-up is painted brilliantly and it all builds the tension very well, allowing us to develop opinions and feelings about Vic, a flawed, defiant and artistic heroine of the story, and Manx, the skeleton-like demon. With the flaws in Vic’s character, she is much more relatable, which helps and offers a different type of protagonist that we’re used to reading.

I won’t give away twists or turns, or endings, or important developments, because I truly feel like it would spoil things too much. The experience of reading this book is made much more impactful if you aren’t exactly sure what to expect. The story isn’t merely a horror tale, it deals with subjects and topics seldom seen in similar genre fare. Depression and mental health issues, mourning and the easily bruised nature of humanity is looked at through the eyes of the characters, and while on the surface it may appear to be your typical “good versus evil” story, it is much more than that, dealing with love, and fighting against things that are out to stop us in our metaphorical tracks.

NOS4R2 is a thriller with a difference, a horror tale with a big giant gaping hole in the middle of it, a hole filled with every other genre you could think of. It injects humour, like all of Hill’s work, but it is genuinely creepy too. I am excited to read the comic series that follows this novel (Wraith) and to see what novel Hill comes out with next, because of all the authors I read in today’s massive literary landscape, Joe Hill is one of my favourites, and I have yet to be disappointed by one of his stories. Exceptional stuff.

NOS4R2 is out now in paperback from Gollancz.

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