Joe Hill is a very clever man. Let’s start with that. Why is he clever? Well for one thing he’s published under the pseudonym Joe Hill instead of taking his birth name, Joseph King, a name given to him by his father, Stephen King. Yes, That Stephen King. This was a shrewd move by Joe to distance himself from his father’s legacy so that he might create one of his own. To be frank, Horns is a big step in the right direction.
He also would have been stuck with the name ‘Joking’ if he’d not changed it, but I digress…
Horns is the second novel by Joe Hill not to be confused with Joseph King not to be confused with That Stephen King. Coming off the splash of his first novel Heart-shaped Box, Horns has done an excellent job of towelling off the reader and setting them in for a nice long sunbathe by the Joe Hill pool.
Anyway, on with the substance of this review.
Horns is about a young
Daniel Radcliffe Ignatius ‘Ig’ Perrish who one morning awakes to find a pair of horns has begun to sprout from his temples. Joe asks for your suspension of disbelief right there, and if you give it to him you’re in for one hell of a read (ha ha). The driving force behind the story is Ig’s past embroilment in a court case wherein he was tried for the rape and murder of his girlfriend, Merrin. Nasty stuff, but then it’s easy enough to read the word ‘rape’ on your screen here, and so it’s easy to do it on the page too. Do not be fooled though, Joe is not here to let you off easy.
The piece is structured in five parts. I’ll tell you now that the biggest reveal is at the end of the first part. Here again Joe is clever, though in a more base way. He tells us exactly what conflict is going to drive the novel in the form of a major revelation (telling us who actually killed Merrin), then throws us into part 2 which is entirely flashback. In fact, we spend a lot of time not really advancing the plot. What we get instead is a rich and full picture of the twisted backdrop this story plays out against. Ig, imbued by the power of his horns to make others succumb to their desires, begins at last to right the wrongs of the small American town the novel is set in just as we have learned how messed up the place is. Had Joe passed on this backstory we would have been left with a flatter experience. Had he opened with it, we would have called his book tedious. Clever you, Joe.
But then again, that’s in medias res for you…
The book lies somewhere between dark fantasy and horror in terms of genre and Andy Weir and John Ironmonger in terms of my bookshelf. It draws from crime and gothic fiction in places too, and on the whole it creates a stunningly unique book. Even those well versed in horror (even the works of That Stephen King) will find this to be a book that stands out from the pack. In fact, it’s the only novel I’ve ever read where I’ve closed the book in disgust with my hands shaking. It gets graphic, and it will make you sick. If that’s your thing then this is your book.
To wrap it all up, Horns is a really good book. I know I said it stands out from the horror pack, but it’s actually not quite a great book. But you know what? One day Joe Hill is going to write one of those, and Horns gets pretty damn close. I don’t like to give numerical ratings for books, because that makes it look like a fact and not an opinion, but this is a good book. You don’t even have to like horror to like this book, and there’s nothing all that scary about it if you’re of the faint-hearted and are worried about picking this one up. I like to think this is a book worth reading, and I like to think you will enjoy reading it.
Then again I like to think a lot of things…
Good job Joe