Thursday, July 24, 2014

Everything comes with a price

Some people have a knack for things. Perhaps the letters of her Scrabble bag spell out the future. Maybe they can hop on their bike and find whatever it is they're looking for, whether they know exactly what they're looking for or not. 

Or their car drives them to Christmasland.

In Joe Hill's NOS4A2, some objects can help their users open rifts in the universe. Victoria McQueen, also known as Vic - or simply The Brat - discovers this when she gets her Tuff Burner for her eighth birthday. As she rides away from her parents' fight, a bridge that has collapsed years ago appears before her. On the other side, she finds the bracelet that her parents are fighting over - and a piercing headache unlike anything she's ever experienced.

Over the years, her Tuff Burner and her Shorter Way Bridge help her other lost things, too. A cat, left for dead on the side of the road. A plush penguin. Trouble.

Trouble in the form of Charlie Manx. Once, long ago, Charlie might have thought he was doing good. In fact, even now, he believes that the children he 'rescues' are being given everything they could ever want. They get to live in a land where it's always Christmas. Where they wake every morning to presents and songs and games. Where the evil parents in their lives will never hurt them again. Never mind that their teeth are replaced with row upon row of hooks, like a shark. Or the games that they play with knives and scissors and lynching trees. Never mind the mothers that become the playthings of the Gas Mask Man for no reason other than that they were trying to protect their sons and daughters from the man in the Rolls Royce Wraith.

As a teenager looking for trouble, her bike led her into the path of old Charlie Manx. That encounter ended with Manx behind bars, a conveniently untrue story about being kidnapped by him, and riding off to safety on the back of Lou Carmody's motorcycle.

But now Charlie has escaped the jail hospital. He's found his Wraith, all fixed up for him by an amateur mechanic. He has his Gas Mask Man, who only needs to rescue one more kid before he can go to Christmasland himself.

And he has his sights set on Vic's son.

Now Vic is in a race against time. His old Tuff Burner is long gone, but she's picked up a talent for motorcycles, having married Lou in the intervening years. She's going to have to hold herself together - through police investigations and her own mental illness - long enough to put Manx in the ground once and for all.

Before her son turns into one of the damaged children of Christmasland.

As with his comic book series Locke and Key, Hill tells a wonderfully creepy horror story with touches of magic and the supernatural. Everyone's actions have consequences, and using their reality-bending talents leaves everyone involved broken in one way or another. In showing us these shattered individuals, the truly good people in the story shine like beacons of hope, and the reader can only hope that they get to the end unscathed.

Highs: The side characters, like Maggie and Lou, steal the show.

Lows: The very last chapter 'Come All Ye Faithful' wrapped things up just a little too prettily for me.

Verdict: Despite a slightly weak ending, NOS4A2 is the type of creepy psychological horror full of damaged people and terrible magic that one would expect from the son of Stephen King.

Further Reading: Locke & Key, Another Volume 1, The Midnight Palace

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