Once in a while a book comes along and the genre isn't quite the same after it is published. A genuine game-changer. It seems like it has been a long time since we've had one in the horror genre. Some near misses, and some that purported to transform the field, but I don't think we've had something like The Shining, Ghost Story, The Ceremonies, or Swan Song, in a long time.

For my money, NOS4A2 deserves to be that novel. I'm not kidding. This is the best book I've read in ages.

Comparisons of Joe Hill to Stephen King are as inevitable as they are apt. And, yes, I see the enormous influence of the father upon the son. Hill even borrows some situations from King in NOS4A2, and I believe that it was quite intentional. A bit of playfulness in a book filled to the brim with wonders and terrors.

I love Stephen King, and I have been an enormous fan since The Shining blew my youthful mind. His career is unparallelled in publishing, and justly so. The man is an outstanding writer. NOS4A2 could not exist, I do not believe, without his influence. However, I also believe that Joe Hill has taken the tools he has been handed down, and ran with them.

Those who assume that NOS4A2 is simply a vampire novel, and are hesitant to read it, should put aside all doubts. The villain in this novel bares only the most miniscule resemblance to the traditional vampire.

It is such a bugfuck story. To describe the plot might inspire ridicule, but I have always maintained that any storyline, no matter how ludicrous it may sound, can be made into a convincing story. In the hands of a good storyteller, that is. Joe isn't good. He is a great storyteller.

I'll give it a go: A little girl by the name of Vic finds that she has the power to find things that are lost. Or does she? She takes her bike through an abandoned bridge and comes out where she wants to be, finding something that has been previously lost. But she is unsure of how much really happens and how much is in her imagination.

It seems that there are a few people with the uncanny ability to transform themselves, and perhaps others, into a world of their own imagination. They use a vehicle, or perhaps a totem might be a better word, and they can travel from the world of everyday reality to somewhere else. There's a catch though. Isn't there always?

Taking these trips kind of messes the traveler up. Mentally. Before long Vic is a drug using, profane near-lunatic. But as I said, there are others with the same ability.

Charlie Manx loves Christmas. He loves it so much he wants to live in a place where it is Christmas every day of the year. He also loves children and wants to help those who have abusive parents. He wants to take them with him to Christmasland where they will always be happy and never have to leave. He picks them up in his 1938 Rolls Royce Wrath, with the NOS4A2 license plates, and whisks them off to Christmasland. The souls of the children do not accompany them on the trip.

Vic has a son named Wayne. She means well, but might not be considered the greatest mother in the world. And Mr. Manx has a strong interest in her anyway because of their shared ability. He wants Wayne to be the newest addition to Christmasland.

Please do not think that I did this story justice at all. This novel is a tour-de-force. I've never read anything quite like it. The prose is electric. I was laughing my head off reading one paragraph, shuddering on another, while others got me choked up and fighting tears.

All the characters are brilliantly conceived and executed, but Vic McQueen is a particularly amazing creation. She is the kind of person many of us would intensely dislike if we briefly met her. Yet Hill takes us into her head and her heart, and makes her one of the most compassionate, yet complicated characters in recent memory. She struggles for her sanity and her child, and the reader struggles along with her.

Heart-Shaped Box was a strong debut for Joe Hill. Not everyone agrees, but I thought that his second novel, Horns, was an enormous improvement. I was a big fan already, but nothing prepared me for NOS4A2. This novel puts Joe Hill at the very top of the field. No one else is doing work this good. Period.

Review by Mark Sieber

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