Review: NOS4R2 / Author: Joe Hill /Publisher: Gollancz / Release Date: May 30th
Ever since she was a little girl, Vic McQueen has had a talent for finding lost things. While her parents assume that this is simply due to luck, the reality is very different. Vic has the ability to tap into the inscape of her own psyche, and create a magical bridge that takes her to the thing that she wants to find, although not without some personal cost.
On one of her trips, Vic encounters the sinister Charlie Manx, another person who can access another plane of existence, but with one major difference. Charlie Manx abducts children whom he feels are being abused by their parents, and takes them to a place called Christmasland, where every day is Christmas day and every night is Christmas eve. Once there, Charlie feeds off the souls of the captive children, leaving them as monstrous shells with no concept of anything beyond their own amusement.
Vic manages to escape from Charlie, and her captor is eventually apprehended by the police. However that is far from the end of the nightmare. Years later, Charlie returns, and this time he has Vic’s son in his sights for a trip to Christmasland.
NOS4R2 is a very different novel to Hill’s earlier efforts, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. In both tone and execution it reads very much like an early Stephen King novel, to the extent that if the name on the dust cover had been King instead of Hill, most readers would probably not have noticed. This is both a good thing and a bad thing.
On the positive side, the characters in NOS4R2 are flawed, engaging and very real. The adult Vic is a damaged former drug addict who never really got over her childhood encounters with Manx and has spent most of her adult life in and out of mental institutions. Just as she feels that she’s beginning to get a grip on reality once more, sinister fragments of her past begin to re-emerge and Vic’s biggest struggle is to come to terms with what is real and what she perceives to be the twisted fantasies of her own fragile psyche.
Likewise, Charlie Manx is a fascinating villain. He believes that he is doing the right thing by taking children away from abusive or inadequate parents, to a place where they can stay young and free from harm forever. However, the process has eroded his own humanity to the extent that he simply cannot understand the harm that he is doing. He is by turns, charming, charismatic, violent and pitiless, but believes that everything he does if in the best interests of the children.
Similarly, the world that Hill creates is superbly detailed and contains some disturbing and downright creepy scenes that manage to twist everything that children perceive as magical about Christmas into a dark, sinister mirror image. There are also plenty of little references, not only to Hill’s own novels, but to those of his father.
Unfortunately, the similarity to his father’s novels is also where NOS4R2 has its biggest issues. The description can, at times, go on too long. This is not too noticeable in the earlier parts of the book, where it helps to paint a vivid picture of the world and the characters. However, once the story builds towards the climactic confrontation between Vic and Manx, I found myself skimming over pages of description to get back to the meat of the story.
It also has to be said that perhaps Hill goes too far in the damage that he inflicts on his protagonist. By the end of the book, Vic has not only been through a wringer mentally, but has suffered such a staggering amount of physical damage that it would have been unlikely that she’d be able to do much more than lie in a hospital bed, being fed through a tube, let alone ride into battle on a motorbike, and this threatened to break the suspension of disbelief a couple of times.
Those niggles aside, NOS4R2 is an excellent novel, populated with believable characters and some intense, creepy scenes. While it does not quite live up to what he achieved with Horns, fans of both Joe Hill and Stephen King will love every second.