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Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Joe Hill's "Horns": A Review

Long before anyone knew he was the son of horror legend Stephen King, author Joe Hill's outstanding debut novel Heart Shaped Box made it clear that a major new voice had arrived on the literary scene. His second novel, Horns, shows that he was no one-hit wonder, and may ultimately have a career as successful and prolific as his famous father. And as he did with his first novel, Hill opens Horns with a hook that grabs readers right from the start.

Ignatius "Ig" Perrish wakes after a night of drunken chaos to find that two horns have sprouted from his head, and not just any horns: devil horns. But these horns are not mere ornaments; they've got powers as well, which is both a blessing and a curse for Ig. As he struggles with his new condition, he comes to understand that these powers can be used to find (and punish) the person who murdered his longtime girlfriend a year earlier, a crime for which no one was charged but for which Ig remains the prime suspect.

Like his father, Joe Hill is firmly planted in the horror genre. But Hill diverges from most horror writers in that he creates truly literary novels at the same time. His plotting is tight, and his characters, both hero and villain, are fully formed. In fact, what makes them so real is that none are completely hero or completely villain, just like in life. You find yourself caring about the characters because they are not cardboard cutouts of people, they're us (even with horns growing out of their heads).

In Horns Hill also delves into how we view religion, God, and most importantly Satan. He doesn't preach or cajole the reader toward a certain viewpoint, but by the end of the book even a Pentecostal preacher would find it hard not to have, as the Stones put it, some sympathy for the Devil. This may sound blasphemous now, but maybe not as much after reading the book.

If there is one "flaw" in Horns, it is the fact that some of the flashback sequences seem to slow the breakneck pace of the story. But perhaps this isn't a flaw at all, because it is the only time the reader has a chance to catch their breath. All told, Horns is an excellent second novel from a writer of great ability and limitless potential.

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