After delighting growing fans with a classic ghost story in Heart-Shaped Box and a tale of terrifying horror in NOS4A2, in his latest tome weighing in at 768 pages, Joe Hill presents his world on the edge of apocalypse. No one really knows how or where it started, but wildfires are tearing through the country and they’re being caused by people. Now, when I say people, I literally mean people are bursting into flame and starting these fires.
Doctors call it Draco Incendia Trychophyton, but everyone else refers to it as Dragonscale. It’s a highly contagious spore and you know you’ve got it when you find these lustrous black and gold bands on your body. It’s unknown what happens in between getting the ‘scale and spontaneously combusting, but there are a lot of people burning up and society is starting to fall apart. There are roving gangs looking to put an end to anyone with the Dragonscale to prevent it spreading further, meanwhile the government says its working on a cure, but really has no idea what it’s doing. Things escalate and continue to get worse and worse.
Our story focuses on Harper Grayson, a talented and compassionate nurse who cares greatly for others and is working her butt off with the current crisis. Her husband, Jacob, barely sees her and doesn’t really get why she’s trying to save all these people with Dragonscale. When Harper contracts the spore, he goes off the deep end mentally and it turns into a very different relationship. Harper doesn’t needs convincing and tries to get the heck out of dodge, but Jacob has other plans. Harper makes it out of the house with the maniac formerly known as her husband is after her. That’s when the tall drink of water with a British accent known as The Fireman comes to save the day.
Harper joins a commune where they have apparently mastered the power of Dragonscale. By joining together and singing, they are able to control the incendiary ferocity of the disease and keep themselves alive and well. But in any group fighting to survive, tensions are strained and stress is at an all time high, as things turn into a kind of Lord of the Flies situation. But there is a rumor that has become legend of an island off the coast of Maine where they are taking in people with Dragonscale, where they can live a nice, normal life without prejudice or persecution.
The Fireman is a wonderfully original tale that takes a few elements like plague and fire and churns them into a compelling story. As with all stories of an apocalyptic nature, it is ultimately about the choices and decisions the people make to survive. Hill’s characters are varied and interesting and definitely give the novel a realistic feel. The middle of the book lags a little, and overall could’ve had some pages editorially excised, as the downturn of the commune gets pretty predicable and uninspiring. But the last third of the book is nonstop action, and even though Joe Hill seems to suffer from his dad’s problem of executing a good ending for the book, The Fireman is a fun escape from you mundane life into a world of fire and fighting and people who give a damn.
Originally written on May 13, 2016 ©Alex C. Telander.
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Joe Hill should have a fairly good idea what it means to be an author, with a couple of books under his belt — Heart-Shaped Box and Horns — as well as a short story collection — 20th Century Ghosts — plus a successful ongoing graphic novel series called Lock & Key; but his latest novel, NOS4A2 puts him on a stage of developed storytelling with his father, Stephen King. The book has an epic complexity and depth in both character and story, with a villain that will haunt your nightmares for a long time to come, akin to King’s It or The Talisman.
Our hero is Victoria McQueen, a young girl with extraordinary dreams and one very powerful ability. When she is given the Raleigh Tuff Burner bike as a birthday gift, she knows it’s a little too big but very powerful, and when she rides it as fast as she can towards that old bridge across the creek that crashed and disintegrated years ago, she can see the bridge rebuilt and she can cross it to just about wherever she wants. Crossing that bridge lets her find things, like a missing bracelet or photograph, or what happened to her cat, as well as answers to questions she might not want to know. She just has to believe, and she is magically taken there, whether it’s Massachusetts or across the country. She is a girl with a gift that only few others have.
Our villain is one Charles Talent Manx who has the same ability as Victoria, except his mode of transportation is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity license plate . . . yep, you guessed it: NOS4A2; this black demon car from hell is of course referred to as “The Wraith.” It is with this aged car that Manx takes children who he believes are destined to have traumatic, horrible lives, to his manufactured tinsel town known as “Christmasland,” where every day is Christmas and the children get to go on the rides, and eat candy canes, have snowball fights, and meet Santa; but there is also a cost for these children; something is being taken from them. And they never come back.
But because she is our hero, Victoria will have a meeting and battle with Manx and get him put away for a long time, not for all the missing children, but for something else. But then, many years later, Manx will return, because there’s one thing that’s certain: he’s not human. And this time he’ll be taking Victoria’s child up to Christmasland, and it’s up to her to get him back, before he becomes lost forever.
NOS4A2 shows that Joe Hill has the talent, skill and ability to write a truly great horror novel that puts him right at the top with other greats. NOS4A2 is a novel about many things: our wants and desires in life and that we don’t always get them; how sometimes our nightmares aren’t gone for good; how the love of the child will always supersede anything else, no matter the cost. It is also a fantastic horror novel that will make you simultaneously terrified of it and in love with it, unable to put it down.
Originally written on June 14, 2013 ©Alex C. Telander.
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We’re coming up on Halloween once again when everything goes spooky and dark, and we like to get scared by things.. Well, here’s a Halloween story I wrote and a list of recommended reads for kids and adults of books that will really give you some shivers . . .
Click on the image below to read the free Halloween Story
And now some recommended Halloween reads to chill your bones and make your blood freeze . . .
FOR KIDS (OR ADULTS) —
FOR ADULTS —
Joe Hill’s second published full-length novel, Horns, is a fun and original story that seems to be a joke a first, then turns into something completely different and terrifying, and then transforms into the unbelievable. Ignatius William Perrish wakes up from the night of all benders. He tries to collect his thoughts and recreate the events from the night before, but is unable to. He knows he drunk a lot, remembers next to nothing, and apparently has grown a pair of small horns overnight. The problem is every time he confronts someone to help him with this “problem,” they treat him like he’s the devil and pour out their deepest, darkest desires.
His high school sweetheart, Merrin Williams, turned up dead almost a year ago, and while Ig had the finger pointed at him at first, he was never convicted. Ig had been sleeping in his car that night after arguing with Merrin. But now, as Ig tries to find someone to help him deal with his horns, he finds most of the town still wholeheartedly believes he killed her. Ig feels like he’s the only guy who’s sure he wasn’t involved, and he plans on finding out who exactly killed the love of his life, even if the truth kills him.
Joe Hill has created a great, original story that could very likely have come from the mind of his father, Stephen King, but as the book continues, the characters develop and become more complex; it becomes not so much about the overall story, as what the characters choose to do and how they react. Horns then becomes a book that Stephen King could never write, but one that any Joe Hill fan will thoroughly enjoy.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on March 26th 2010 ©Alex C. Telander.
The first time you pick up the hardcover copy of 20th Century Ghosts, you know you’re in for a treat. The book is cloth-bound in darkest black, sans dust jacket, with a sticker on the front listing the title and author, along with a haunting black and white photograph. As one opens the cover, one is greeted by a dried blood-red inlay, followed by the white pages of writing. It is almost as if one is opening a black and bloody wound to read what Joe Hill has to offer.
20th Century Ghosts is a short story collection of modern horror, revealing what else has been going on in the mind of the author who brought us the bestselling Heart-Shaped Box. Originally released in hardcover two years ago in England, Joe Hill fans will be happy to have this beautiful hardcover edition available at the more affordable price than the out-of-print edition only available on the likes of eBay.
With a quick introduction from Christopher Golden, author of The Myth Hunters and Strangewood, the collection kicks of with a chilling story titled “Best New Horror.” It is about an editor of the annual Best New Horror collection who is sent a fresh and disturbing story for the next edition, featuring a level of the macabre and disgust that he hasn’t seen in a long time. The editor seeks out the author and finds himself in his very own horrific story on a level with that of the one that so entranced him. The title story, “20th Century Ghost,” is a classic modern-day ghost story about an old movie theater that is being haunted by a young girl who loved to watch movies until she died suddenly one day at the theater. Now she returns every once in a while to engage a movie viewer in chilling conversation.
From there Hill takes the reader on a journey into different kinds of horror. A man in a Kafkaesque world awakes as a giant cockroach. A young boy is kidnapped by a terrifying hulk of a man who admits he won’t hurt him, but simply wants to watch him. A short and enchanting tale about the ghosts of trees. The fascinating story about a boy who can fly whenever he wears his childhood cape. Not all stories are of the horror variety, but more the mundane and yet still able to move the reader. “Pop Art” is the incredible and yet strangely enchanting story about a world where some people are “inflatable,” composed of little more tan plastic and air and must be careful not to get caught on anything sharp, or they will deflate and die. It is a moving story about a boy and his relationship with one of these inflatable people. A considerable number of the stories in 20th Century Ghosts involve children, specifically young boys. Perhaps Hill is turning to his own childhood imagination, or maybe he feels that childhood is a time when the imagination is most creative and easily convinced, even if the demons and monsters that are imagined are actually real.
While Heart-Shaped Box was not as great a book as I’d hoped, 20th Century Ghosts has convinced me that Joe Hill is an entertaining and talented new horror writer, who is still working somewhat in the style of his father, Stephen King, but as time passes and more stories and books are written and published, he will no doubt become one of the most popular and most interesting of today’s horror writers. I look forward to reading his next work.
If you liked this review and are interested in purchasing this book, click here.
Originally written on October 26th 2007 ©Alex C. Telander.