So, I am a pretty big fan of Joe Hill, son of Stephen King (yes, THAT Stephen King). I became acquainted with him through his comic series, Locke and Key. If you haven’t read these and like comics, check them out, they are very cool. Since getting into Locke and Key I have read a couple of Hill’s novels including Heart-Shaped Box and Horns, so I was pretty excited when I saw that he had another book coming out.
Synopsis: NOS4A2 is about Vic, a girl who can travel across a magical covered bridge to find things that have been lost. She learns about this special ability when she is a young girl and her parents are fighting over a bracelet her mother had lost. Vic takes off on her bike to get away from her parents and feels drawn to a covered bridge. When she crosses she is in the town where they had vacationed and goes into the restaurant they ate at, where the cook gives her the bracelet the mother had left behind.
Over time Vic realizes that she is not the only person with this special ability. She meets a girl who has magic scrabble tiles which tell her the future. She also learns about Charlie Manx, a man with a magic Rolls-Royce (with the license plate number NOS4A2) that takes him to an imaginary place called Christmasland. Unfortunately Mr. Manx doesn’t use his special ability for what most of us would consider good ends. He steals children and takes them to Christmasland.
Vic ends up on a collision course with Manx when he steals her son to take him to Christmasland. Vic must outrun the law, who think she is the culprit in the disappearance of her son, to get to Manx and her son before it is too late.
My Opinion: I love that Hill is not afraid to tell really wild stories. Lots of more recent horror stuff feels the need to have some kind of gritty realism. Hill isn’t afraid to go deep into the fantastical places of his imagination, and I really like that. He builds whole worlds within single volumes and he does it well.
Also, Hill is younger and his writing style is younger and his characters tend to be younger (Don’t think teens, think mid-twenties and early thirties). I like this. His characters are flawed, but that isn’t anything new. But, they are flawed in a way that relates to a younger crowd. They have depression, and deal with anxiety and awkwardness around the opposite sex and fear of failure and all that stuff that I don’t know if other authors grab quite so well. Sometimes you feel like the writing is immature, but then you realize that it is actually the character that is immature, and that is pretty impressive. That all sounds kinda weird, but it’s almost as if you relate to the characters better because you don’t always get the way they act, because you don’t always get the way immature people act, so it feels real in that way.
That is all general praise for Hill, but NOS4A2 is his biggest book so far and I think improves on both of those fronts over his previous novels (although Locke and Key is mostly on par in these areas).
One of the coolest things about NOS4A2 is how it ties in lots of other books, both by Hill himself, and by his dad, Stephen King. Before even picking up the book, I thought the evil car idea sounded very familiar, but when you actually start reading it you come across explicit references. I came across the first of these tie-ins fairly early in the book and thought it was just sort of a nod at his dad and his fans, then it came up more and more and I realized Hill was actually filling out the world of NOS4A2 and all these other books, by explaining how this special ability is the reason that a bunch of mysterious things happen in places like Derry, mentioning Pennywise directly, and the doors to Mid-World of the Dark Tower series. He also ties to Locke and Key, Horns, and Heart-Shaped Box. I love all this! It seems from interviews that Hill was just trying to be funny, but you still gotta love it from a guy who didn’t even want people to know he was King’s son just a few years ago.
NOS4A2 is a really fun book to read. Not overly scary, but definitely has some intense page-turning sections. If I felt like there was any problem at all, it was the big confrontation at the end between Vic and Manx. It felt somewhat anticlimactic. You know how you hold your breath for that big moment when you can finally let it go? I didn’t feel that moment. It was kinda like my breath just slowly eased back out, but honestly the more I think about it, the more I realize that it was kinda unsettling. I never felt that moment when everything was ok again, and maybe that’s a good thing. This is a great book to read right now with Halloween coming up and Christmas in the not too distant future. It’ll make it hard for you to hear Christmas songs without looking over your shoulder!