Monday, December 28, 2015
Holiday Horror: NOS4A2
Victoria AKA Vic McQueen has a secret. She has a talent for finding missing things, but she'll never tell any how she does it. Her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike takes her onto a covered bridge to wherever the missing object is and then the bridge disappears when she's done with it. This power takes a physical toll on her if she uses it too much. Charles Manx has an interesting power too. He rides around in a 1938 Rolls Royce with the vanity plate NOS4A2, abducting children he views to be in distress, killing their parents, and taking them to Christmasland, his supposedly idyllic child haven. The reality is much more sinister. Vic runs into him one day when looking for trouble and their encounter changes both of their lives: Vic goes down a road of addiction and self abuse while Manx is in a coma for a number of years. One day, Manx comes out of his coma and plans to target Vic's son. Vic is the only person who can stop him if she can get out of her downward spiral and denial of her power.
I enjoy Joe Hill's writing, but much like his father, he tends to end his books in an unsatisfying way. This book is the exception and I hope a growing trend. NOS4A2 is excellent from start to finish. I read it over the course of a few months and I always knew exactly where I was and what was happening. The fantasy and horror aspects are fresh and make sense within the worldbuilding. The few people in the novel with some sort of power have an object that is needed in order to use it. Vic has her bike and later a motorcycle. Manx has his Rolls Royce and Vic's friend Maggie has her Scrabble tiles. All of their abilities have a different focus, Vic's being the ability to transport to and find whatever she thinks of and Maggie's being precognition. Their powers aren't just free to use; it takes a physical toll on them. These women met as innocent children and both turned to substance abuse and other self destructive behaviors. Based on the effects, brain damage and deteriorating mental health are also symptoms of extended use. One way this is portrayed besides Vic's physical reaction is in the condition of her covered bridge. When she was young, the bridge was brand new, like any bridge in good repair. When she grew up, it was in extreme disrepair with rotten boards and bats everywhere. It's a gamble if she'll even make it to the other side.
The horror aspects are particularly on point. Charles Manx is one of the creepiest villains ever. He is similar to Nosferatu in appearance: pale, protuding teeth, bald, undead looking. He rides around in his vintage Rolls Royce "saving" unhappy children from their horrible parents and taking them to Christmasland, a land of happiness, decadence, and neverending fun. This may sound like he's a saint, but that's what he wants you to think. Some of the children are from legitimately terrible households, but some of them are not. Manx's minion dispatches the parents and uses the mothers for his own sick pleasure, leaving Manx free to whisk the child away in his car. It's no ordinary car. In addition to being an exceptionally beautiful car, it also follows Manx's whims, whether it's constantly playing Christmas music through its speakers, driving itself, making the back seat seem interminable, or giving the inhabitants presents. Their final destination is Christmasland, but on the way there, the goal is for the children to lose their humanity under Manx's tutelage. Once the child gets there, it's a playground of carnage with many other inhuman playmates where the adults are prey. Christmasland is a disgusting parody of a child's ideal Christmas and it's one of the most chilling places I've read about. Manx is convinced he's doing the best for his children and uses manipulation, drugs, and magic to get the children on his side.
NOS4A2 is Joe Hill's best book yet. The characters, the worldbuilding, and the story are memorable. The human drama and fantastical horror elements are perfectly balanced to create a novel that's both incredibly creepy and touching at the same time. I hope a sequel is in the works because the ending leaves just a little bit open for one. I had no idea until now that there was a graphic novel miniseries called Wraith that ties into the story, which I will definitely check out. Sometime in the future, AMC is supposed to release a miniseries and I can't wait. I hope Christmasland is as horrific as I imagine it. I will read whatever Joe Hill writes next because I was always engaged by his writing, but this novel follows through with an amazing ending.
My rating: 5/5 fishmuffins