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Friday, February 5, 2010

“Horns” by Joe Hill (Reviewed by Robert Thompson)

Official Joe Hill Website
Order “HornsHERE (US) + HERE (UK)

AUTHOR INFORMATION: Joe Hill is the author of the critically acclaimed novel “Heart-Shaped Box”, the short story collection “20th Century Ghosts”, the Locke & Key comic books, and numerous short fiction. Accolades include three Bram Stoker Awards, two British Fantasy Awards, a World Fantasy Award, an International Horror Guild Award, the A.E. Coppard Long Fiction Prize, and the Ray Bradbury Fellowship.

PLOT SUMMARY: Once, Ignatius “Ig” Perrish lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more—he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then, suddenly, beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone—raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances—with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed Ig’s life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge . . . it's time the devil had his due...

CLASSIFICATION:Horns” is a murder mystery/love story/revenge thriller with a dark supernatural twist in the vein of Stephen King, Dean Koontz and Peter Straub...

FORMAT/INFO:Horns” is 384 pages long divided over four titled Parts and fifty numbered chapters. Narration is in the third-person, mainly via the protagonist Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, but also includes narratives by the villain and Ig’s older brother Terry. “Horns” is self-contained.

February 16, 2010 marks the North American Hardcover publication of “Horns” via William Morrow. The UK edition (see below, first image) will be published on February 18, 2010 via Gollancz. PS Publishing is also producing two limited edition versions (see below, second image) of “Horns”: 1) A Slipcased Copy Signed by Joe Hill with interior color plates by Vincent Chong, and 2), a Signed Traycased Edition limited to 200 copies.

NOTE:Horns” was optioned for film adaptation by Mandalay Pictures (Sleepy Hollow) back in October 2009.

ANALYSIS: In his short, but already illustrious career, Joe Hill has established himself as the real deal, winning well-deserved awards for both his short fiction and novel debut as well as succeeding in the world of comic books with the highly praised Locke & Key series. Does the magic continue in Joe Hill’s newest novel, “Horns”?

Well, writing-wise, “Horns” once again finds Joe Hill at the top of his game, in particular his uncanny ability to examine humanity in all of its beauty and ugliness. This is done through fully fleshed out characters (Iggy Perrish, Merrin Williams, Lee Tourneau, Terry Perrish, Glenna Nicholson, Eric Hannity) who readers can care for, sympathize with, or hate; piercing insights about love, sin or other topics relevant in everyday life; and the author’s keen and vivid descriptive abilities:

1)It was something, the way the wheelchair picked up speed, the way a person’s life picked up speed, the way a life was like a bullet aimed at one final target, impossible to slow or turn aside, and, like the bullet, you were ignorant of what you were going to hit, would never know anything except the rush and the impact.”

2)Ig had always liked to listen to his father, to watch him while he played. It was almost wrong to say his father played. It often seemed the other way around: that the horn was playing him. The way his cheeks swole out, then caved in as if he were being inhaled into it, the way the golden keys seemed to grab his fingers like little magnets snatching at iron filings, causing them to leap and dance in unexpected, startling fits. The way he shut his eyes and bent his head and twisted back and forth at the hips, as if his torso were an auger, screwing its way deeper and deeper into the center of his being, pulling the music up from somewhere in the pit of his belly.”

3)Hopefully, over the years of being best friends, Lee would learn the truth about music: that it was the third rail of life. You grabbed it to shock yourself out of the dull drag of hours, to feel something, to burn with all the emotions you didn’t get to experience in the ordinary run of school and TV and loading the dishwasher after dinner.”

The story, however, was somewhat disappointing because of its familiarity. The hero blamed for a crime he didn’t commit; discovering the real murderer; exacting revenge against that murderer; the tale of youths falling in love; learning why Merrin was killed in the first place . . . the subplots in “Horns” are fairly conventional, aside from Ig suddenly developing devil-like abilities. Even the execution, while skillfully handled, was largely formulaic right down to the flashbacks, foreshadowing and other well-used plot devices.

Creatively, I loved the idea of the hero using abilities usually associated with evil, especially the ‘horns’ which caused people to confess their darkest urges—their worst and most shameful impulses—and asking permission to commit more. The only problem I had with this concept is that I felt the abilities that Ig develops and the many references Joe makes to Satan over the course of the novel were a bit too cliché like being able to learn all of a person’s guilty secrets upon skin contact, commanding snakes, wielding a pitchfork as a weapon, ‘luck of the devil’, 666, the gift of tongues, “The Devil Inside”, Asmodeus, ‘devil in a blue dress’, and so on.

Comparatively, while “Horns” is another well-written and entertaining novel, I felt it lacked the surprise twists and jaw-dropping moments of “Heart-Shaped Box”. I also thought Joe Hill’s debut was more original overall and less predictable in its presentation than the author’s new book. Nevertheless, I immensely enjoyed reading “Horns” and believe the novel will only add to Joe Hill’s growing legacy...


John Taylor said...

I would highly recommend this excellent book.


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