Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
At the time of writing this review Goodreads have rated this as 4.06 out of 5
Quick note before I start – the copy I read is the UK edition (as that is where I live) hence the spelling and book cover ‘NOS4R2.’ I say this only because the book title was changed to match the pronunciation of it based on the country of purchase. So, while we Brits get ‘NOS4R2’ with our supposedly high-brow Queen’s English, American’s get ‘NOS4A2.’ The blurb is from the Americanised version. Just in case you were wondering.
I don’t normally enjoy horror stories (I’ve previously mentioned what a wuss I am) but I’d read ‘Horns’ by Joe Hill and really enjoyed it, although I don’t know if it truly comes under the ‘horror’ genre. I also saw the movie which stars Daniel Radcliffe but it wasn’t quite as good as the book and yes, it was weird watching Harry Potter having The Sex.
This isn’t a ‘Horns’ review as I read it before I started to
force my opinions share my thoughts on the books I read but I really enjoyed its strange mix of creepiness and human emotion and the message that the spirit of humanity perseveres against all odds and you know what? I enjoyed this one more. It is a creepy book but, despite the blurb, it is more supernatural creepy and not realistic child kidnap creepy.
In all the teaching courses that exist they inform their students that their protagonist needs to have danger and this needs to be pressing and immediate. There is nothing more pressing or immediate than a character who happens to be a mother whose child is under threat. This is not a criticism, especially not here, as you can relate to Vic’s desperation as she goes to hell (quite literally) for her son.
What I was particularly pleased by is that, unlike some works of fiction where the hero remains untouched despite trauma, our hero Vic is incredibly and irreversibly damaged. Within the story her experiences as a child have done some permanent harm resulting in a character who develops alcoholism, a penchant for arson and Schizophrenic type symptoms which result in her eventual sectioning. This being a horror story we know the voices she hears aren’t indications of any relating to her mental health but are something far more sinister.
Vic is flawed and at times we don’t like her but we don’t need to like her. We need to understand her and root for her and I found that I genuinely did on both fronts.
The supporting characters never feel like they suffer either and are just as fleshed out as Vic. Each one of them earns their place in the story, my favourites being Maggie, a librarian with a mystical gift of her own and Lou, Vic’s kindly ex-partner and father of their son. For a book of its size (about 689 pages) the plot races through and nothing feels like it’s been inserted for padding purposes and each scene in this story feels like it exists for a reason. Well almost…
My only gripe (I cannot be me without a gripe) is the epilogue. Sadly, for me this felt a little ‘tacked on’ and didn’t seem to fit with the rest of the story. In the Author’s Note it was mentioned how the original epilogue wasn’t liked and so was re-written with what is now the published version. From a personal perspective, it would be interesting to see what that original looked like. Stay past the Author’s Note for the stinger (aka the end credits scene in movies), it’s worth it.
All in all, I really liked ‘NOS4R2’ in all its unsettling, disturbing glory. The characters are interesting and well developed, the storyline is engaging and creepy and the writing is sharp.
Which brings me to that last bit. It could have been incredibly easy for the author to obtain success by throwing his father’s name into the publishing ring. If you’re sending off a manuscript, which is a horror manuscript by the way, you could easily say, “oh my pen name will be my birth name. That would be ‘Joe King’. The King of Horror himself, Stephen King, is my dad. So, publish this, won’t you?”
I must state though, that Joe Hill has a natural writing talent even if it does at times seem to be a similar style to his dads. Ultimately he originally hid the family connection so that he would get published on his own merits. I find this commendable, I really do, because when you have a golden key to open doors it must be hard to not just take it.
Of course, by the time a few books had been published most people had made the connection and he began to make public appearances. He didn’t do this initially because, well because…
Lots of ‘stuff’ gets passed down the genes.