It took me entirely too long to get that title.
At some point when I bought this book, I must have read the description. But I can’t remember what it was. What I do know is that I read Horns, and I liked it. I then bought NOS4A2 on Halloween of 2015.
And then I let it sit more than a year and a half.
There are reasons for this. One of them is the same reason it took me a while to read Horns in the first place. I’m not much of a horror fan. So even though I loved Horns, I’m still not generally in the mood for horror, even good horror.
The second reason is the cover. I wasn’t quite getting that it was a license plate for a while. What I could see was the rust (or more likely blood knowing the book now) on the the metal, and that made me think of some post-apocalyptic industrial future, and that didn’t appeal to me. That was grossly off the mark, but that’s what I was thinking.
And then I started hitting the end of my unread pile (that still leaves like 10-15 books), and so I’m going after those books I was interested in but couldn’t quite make myself read.
So I went in blind. I highly recommend this. I knew it was horror, but I had no idea what the broad plot points would be (and I guess by reading this, you can’t go in blind for this one; let’s treat that as a general recommendation). For a book built on suspense, that amps things up a bit more. I’ve been doing this more lately, and it’s making me enjoy the books all the more for it.
And one last note before getting into the book itself, we need to note that Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son. I’m not sure if I knew this before or after reading Horns, but you’ll find out eventually. As for comparisons, I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve never read any of King’s books. The Dark Tower series is one of the only ones that appeals to me. Evidently there are easter eggs for both Hill’s and King’s books.
On to the book itself.
It deals with the mind. Yeah. I don’t really know what that means either, but that’s what it does.
Basically, there are people in this world who can make things that happen in their minds happen in the real world (or pull things from the real world into their minds), but they use talismans of sorts. That’s far as I’m going to take this without spoilers.
This book clears 900 pages. At times it feels like it and at others it feels like a blur. One of the things that threw me off for about half the book was how it didn’t feel like one long novel. Instead it felt like collected short stories. Or you could treat it as two books. The first book ends before the protagonist is an adult, while the second picks up there. You could honestly have a 600-page book without losing much if you cut out the front part of the whole thing.
So like many books, it moves slowly first. You get short story after short story. As each one ends, there’s a feel of finality, so you don’t feel the urge to keep reading so quickly. As the book nears the 1/3 mark, you finish up what feels like a series of stories to get you to the main story. Once you hit that point, the book picks up its pace because it all ties together at this point. No more setup. Now things are happening in real time.
I don’t know exactly how suspenseful this book feels exactly. It’s there, but it doesn’t feel dangerous. To a certain extent, you kind of know how a lot of things will go. He doesn’t really string the reader out to drag their guts along the ground like George R. R. Martin does, though it is certainly a violent story. But you generally know how the violence will happen to ahead of time. And you see certain things telegraphed.
What makes the book engaging is how the characters deal with what’s going on inside their heads. Some of them think they’re crazy, and they aren’t. Some think they’re sane, and they’re most certainly certifiable. And that’s intriguing. Second-guessing is human nature and so is blundering into the wrong direction, and this book has plenty of that.
Basically, the book is great and has interesting ideas. If you pay attention to details, it will reward you. And even if you don’t, it’s a horror novel, so there’s plenty to keep your attention.
Ok, we have now reached a SPOILER zone.
The talismans. The gates. The horcruxes. Whatever they are. That was a neat trick to go after. I also appreciated that he called them horcruxes at one point. Sometimes you can’t let your fictional universe ignore other fictional universes.
What’s interesting isn’t that they’re a tool. It’s that the use the human as a tool too. They allow you to accomplish a task, but they take something with you when you do. One character gets a stutter. Another goes a little crazy. Another becomes a sort-of vampire. Distribution of effects is not equal in this world.
But that cost matters. You can basically have whatever you want in this universe, as long as you’re willing to pay for it. There’s a realism to this magic that’s missing when you wave a wand around in the air.
Either way, cool book and cool concepts.