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NOS4R2 (NOS4A2) by Joe Hill

Nos4r2 by Joe HillPublisher: Gollancz
Paperback (704pp)
Release date: 30 April 2013

NOS4R2 is the latest book in the exciting and increasingly impressive career of Joe Hill, building on the success of his previous novels, Heart-Shaped Box and Horns.

NOS4R2 tells the story of Vic McQueen, who the reader initially meets as a caring, precocious and talented young girl. Vic has a special gift that sets her apart; she is able to find things. When Vic puts her head down and begins pedalling on her Raleigh Burner, she is able to access the Shorter Way Bridge, a portal to a world hidden behind our own. The Bridge provides her a direct link to anything she considers lost.

Unfortunately for Vic, she is not the only person who can access the roads between this world and another, these worlds are well traversed by the evil Charlie Manx who kidnaps children in his black 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith after promising them a visit to Christmasland; a place where every day is Christmas Day and every night is Christmas Eve.

The two first cross paths when Vic is a teenager, full of angst and anger at the world. She becomes the first person to escape him and his mysterious Wraith, leading ultimately to Manx’s arrest and incarceration. But Charlie Manx is not bound by the normal rules of life and death so when he returns to steal Vic’s young son, Wayne, years later, he raises the stakes in the ultimate game between the two.

The two central characters in NOS4R2 are vividly drawn; the reader is able to observe Vic McQueen in the various stages of her life and watch as terrible things continue to happen to her, such as how her relationships with those around her break down due to her special power. At times, she is capable of incredibly touching displays of emotion. We are given personal insights into Vic throughout which are presented in engaging and interesting ways and never to the detriment of the story. In lesser hands, character development could have been clumsy yet Hill skilfully weaves Vic’s life into the narrative leading to an incredibly rounded and believable lead character that it is almost impossible not to root for.

Likewise, whilst Charlie Manx is the villain of the piece he is also a character of depth and intrigue rather than being solely defined by his evil acts. Manx is delusional and dangerous, but also funny and charming when the mood takes him. His interactions with Vic and her son Wayne are chilling due to the layers of his character which offer a feeling of foreboding and unpredictability throughout.

Manx’s black Wraith is a character in its own right. As with its driver, it is expertly detailed and there is a sense of unease every time it rolls smoothly into a scene. The car is Manx’s accomplice and apparatus: his means of sucking the souls from children as he drives them away to spend eternity in Christmasland. The opulence and the luxury of the vehicle only enhance the very real horror of child abduction.

Throughout NOS4R2, Hill deals with a variety of themes, most prominently the loss of childhood innocence. Hill isn’t afraid to let a young character take over the narrative and drive it forward from their youthful, and sometimes naïve, point of view.

Joe Hill has always been an ambitious writer, stories such as ‘Pop Art’ in the short form and the novel, Horns have shown the range of his imagination, yet NOS4R2 is a significant step forward in terms of scale. Hill hits every note throughout this story, and each character is fleshed out almost to the point of intimacy. Even the periphery characters such as Vic’s parents and Manx’s insane assistant Bing ‘The Gas Mask Man’ Partridge have believable backstories, interactions and character quirks that make them integral components to the story.

Whilst the book is long (clocking in at over 700 pages), there is an economy in the prose which ensures that no scene or sentence is wasted. Hill’s pacing is perfect and the book haunts and touches the reader regularly and effectively.

NOS4R2 is an epic tale of horror, compassion and innocence. Hill’s text sizzles on the page, providing scares, laughs and adventure throughout. Hill even pays homage to and references Horns, Heart-Shaped Box and other well-known mythologies.

With NOS4R2 Joe Hill has transcended the excellence of his previous works. He has brought pop culture, horror and fantasy together in a truly masterful book that will launch him even further into the stratosphere of mainstream recognition, something that he richly deserves.

 DAN HOWARTH

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1 comment

  1. Nice review Dan, you’ve got me sold.

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