I’ve wanted to read Joe Hill’s work for a long time now; what with his famous father I had high expectations, and I wasn’t disappointed. This was an epic, suspenseful and incredibly dark book which I won’t forget in a hurry.
Spanning over a decade and straddling the lines between fantasy and reality, NOS4A2 is all about Victoria (Vic) McQueen and Charlie Manx. Two very different people who have something special in common – they can traverse the line between reality and imagination and they each use it to get what they want. For Vic, this is finding lost things – whether that’s a bracelet, an old photograph or her son. Manx uses his talents for darker means; using his car with the vanity plate NOS4A2, he is able to kidnap young children and take them to Christmasland – a world which exists inside his mind where every day is Christmas, but at a price.
At over 700 pages, this book is longer than my average read, and it took me a little while to get into in it. I think this is partly due to how dark, twisted and crude the novel is – sometime I needed to take a step back and take a break. With plenty of pages to work with, Hill spends time setting the scene, introducing the reader to Vic first when she’s just a child discovering her talent for the first time, and giving the reader a peek inside the mind of Manx’s right-hand man, The Gasmask Man.
But once the book reaches about the halfway point Hill really steps up the action; as Vic and Manx are pitted against each other in a deadly chase it’s truly compulsive reading. The author delivers shock after shock all wrapped around an emotionally charged tale, leading to the dark conclusion in Christmasland itself.
I saved this book to read near Christmas as I knew there was a Christmas theme – and it is strong, but it’s enough to put someone off Christmas for life! Charlie Manx’s menacing version of Christmas is more a soulless, never-ending nightmare than a time of festive cheer and the fact that this time of year is usually associated with such strong connotations of goodwill, love and happiness makes this twisted version all the more chilling. Hill has turned an age-old concept on its head, and the results are brilliant.
But the book isn’t all about horror – like his father, this author has a brilliant knack for creating believable, sympathetic characters and weaving themes of hope, relationships and love amongst the darkness. Vic is a stand-out protagonist; simultaneously tough and vulnerable, I was rooting for her every step of the way. She is fiercely determined and loyal to her family and yet she’s made her fair share of mistakes. From bratty teenager to mentally fragile young mother to a powerful force to be reckoned with, her character was fascinating, and her relationships with her family were well-drawn and touching too. The perfect blend – this book has horror and a heart.
I’m off to read something which a bit more Christmas cheer now…