Like father, like son, some people say. Joe Hill is Stephen King’s son and the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. As a matter of fact, this apple is even sweeter if you like your books tinged with tales of horror and love. Joe Hill slips you quickly into his world like slipping a noose around your neck while you’re eating a lollipop. Then, before you know it, the rope is tight and your feet are off the floor.
Joe Hill does not just do this with his new book, “NOS4A2”; his other books, “The Heart-Shaped Box” and “Horns”, as well as his novellas, “Gunpowder” and “Thumbprints”, do exactly the same thing. What’s nice is that each book does it differently and Hill does not waste a word. You might say, like one of the lead characters in “NOS4A2”, Charles Talent Manx, that Joe Hill has a talent for it himself.
Stephen King, in his books, usually has a knack for establishing sides — sheer evil against goodness with a fatal flaw — and one must pay attention or else things go wrong. Joe Hill has that same talent but is more succinct.
I love Stephen King’s books—one of my favorites by him is “The Dark Tower”, an eight-book series of mystifying American magic with demons, wraiths and gunslingers. It’s a modern “Lord of the Rings”, but King does waste a word or two in the tale.
As a writer myself, I look for those places that could have been edited, but Joe Hill has me mesmerized. The more I read, the more I like. Multi-talented, Joe Hill writes graphic novels too, an exceptional example of which is “Locke and Key”. We’re getting off topic, though.
When Charles Manx first appears as an old man who seems to be in a coma, one gets a taste of what evil is truly about in three pages. How does this happen? Manx just opens his eyes and talks to his nurse, Ellen Thornton, and a few words are enough to spiral her to hell.
Charles Talent Manx drives a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith, with the license plate NOS4A2, right into and out of a place called Christmasland. Christmasland sounds like a place any child would want to go to have fun. Obviously, there is more to it than that, of course.
In this delicate tale of terror, there is a little girl named Victoria McQueen, a young princess who is capable of white magic. She can ride her bicycle over an old wooden covered bridge called the Shortaway, and come out miles away from where she started. Sometimes, when she stays too long in the places the bicycle takes her, her eye begins to pulse like there’s pressure in her head that’s not good for her. Magic has its price.
Charles Talent Manx’s old Rolls-Royce Wraith takes him on roads no one else can find, which disappear him when he drives. He needs that car just like Victoria McQueen needs her bicycle and magic bridge.
There are people in this world, a few special folks, who can go places no one else can go. They don’t need to buy a ticket but they still have to pay a price. These folks can get away with anything, anytime, but there is always a price to pay. When Victoria McQueen, unwanted by her parents, looks for trouble on the other side of the Shortaway bridge, she finds it.
Victoria rides right into Christmasland, a magic place run by Charles Manx. He likes to take little boys and girls there, and they never come back. Sometimes Charles meets other characters with kinks in their thinks, such as Bing Partridge, who put a nail gun to his dad’s temple and thought it was a joke. When he pulled the trigger, his dad didn’t do much more thinking at all. Then Bing took his mother right out of her grief.
Bing is lonely, and he has dreams of Christmasland, where a kindly old fellow drives a big old Rolls-Royce Wraith. After a hard day at the factory, where Bing works with solvents that aren’t very healthy, the Wraith with the license plate NOS4A2 just pulls up in front of his house. Bing knows he is in heaven, but his goal is Christmasland, and only Charlie Talent Manx can get him there.
There’s so much more but my job is not to spoil the ride for you. Once you get in the Rolls-Royce Wraith built in 1938, you are in for the ride of your life — what is left of your life, that is.
I have told you plenty but there are no spoilers here. I’m not saying whether Victoria McQueen gets to grow up and have a child of her own; a child that can do magic like hers. If she had a boyfriend, because she would not be the marrying kind, he would be a biker who knew his engines. Maybe she’d write children’s stories. You’ll need a search engine to find out about that, however.
This is Joe Hill’s third novel and it might be the equivalent of his father’s third novel, “The Stand”. His first two novels were very, very good but this one will take you places you’ve never been before. Joe Hill does not waste a word. “NOS4A2” — get it, read it. You will love it and you will curse me for taking you to Christmasland.