It’s been a busy year for Joe Hill. Not only did the oldest son of Stephen King conclude his beloved Locke and Key comic book series, but his 2010 novel, Horns, is currently being adapted into a Alexander Aja-directed flick starring Daniel Radcliff. Seriously, it’s amazing the dude has managed to take a break from Twitter long enough to write a hulking beast of a novel like NOS4A2. Hill’s 700-page spine-buster––about a woman’s decades-spanning fight against an ageless kiddie snatcher––manages to mix dark fantasy and horror into a wicked concoction that’s part twisted fairy tale, part re-exploration of vampirism (‘NOS4A2’ is a vanity plate reference to ‘Nosferatu’.) One of the most anticipated novels of the year, NOS4A2 will be released by William Morrow on April 30.
Joe Hill is no Christmas lover. Just check NOS4A2 for proof, where vampiric antagonist Charlie Manx whisks kids away to a nightmare realm called Christmasland to have their conscience drained away. In Christmasland, sparkly glass ornaments hang from trees, the scent of gingerbread lingers in the air, and hook-toothed children giggle as they dismember butterflies, all while Bing Crosby sings holiday classics in the background. Hill’s terrible, grotesque netherworld gleefully perverts the spirit of the season. As the author recently told Complex clothes catalog, “If there was a war on Christmas, I would be the general advancing on it.”
Victoria is the only person qualified to stop Charlie Manx’s reign of terror, although at the beginning of NOS4A2, she’s only 8-years-old. Early on Vic discovers she has the ability to travel to faraway places using a covered bridge that magically appears when she pumps the pedals of her Tuffburner bike. Initially using her bridge to find lost objects for their owners, Vic unintentionally uses the bridge to travel to the nightmarish Christmasland, where she’s forced into a confrontation with Charlie Manx and his giggling minions.
Years later, Vic worries that the immortal Manx has returned to exact his revenge, and that her 12-year-old son Wayne might be the target. With her Tuffburner bike lost ages ago, Vic fires up a Triumph motorcycle in the hopes of rediscovering her mystical bridge to Christmasland, where she can finally bring an end to Manx’s reign of terror.
Packed with a dark, malevolent whimsy, NOS4A2 is an epic novel from an epic imagination. In fact, Hill introduces enough ideas and characters to fill a half dozen books, and the abundance of plot threads sometimes works to the novel’s detriment. Unless he has plans to turn NOS4A2 into a full-fledged series (and the conclusion certainly leaves that possibility open), Hill ends the book with several avenues regrettably underexplored.
But “too many good ideas” seems like an awfully petty complaint when you consider the sheer talent and originality on display here. At times both joyful and triumphant, NOS4A2 is a Christmas miracle of sorts, a revenge tale crafted from the jagged remains of shattered holiday ornaments.
Rating: 4 out of 5 Skulls