Top critical review
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5-star title, 1-star story - an unholy mess of a book
on 20 June 2013
NOS4R2 = Nosferatu. Geddit? Well, that pun is almost certainly the cleverest thing about this unholy mess of a novel written by Joe Hillstrom King (the 41-year-old second child of Stephen King).
For a start, there aren't even any vampires - certainly not in the sense that most people would understand. Stretching a point, the main villain could be thought of as some kind of `psychic' vampire. The title is ten times better than the story and should have been kept back until Hill had come up with a much better plot.
It's far too long- at nearly 700 pages. It could easily have been cut down to half that without losing anything important. Indeed, it might have been a much better book. Hill repeats stuff endlessly. If we're told once that one of the characters is as big as a "bear" we're told ten times. Yeah, the guy's morbidly obese but also kinda "cuddly" - we get it, ok?
I've been reading horror novels for more than 30 years. I understand all the "rules" of horror/supernatural literature. With NOS4R2 Hill doesn't just ignore the rules, he gives the impression that he watched a few movie adaptations of his father's books on DVD back in the day and came to the conclusion he could write a novel. It's as though he thought he'd throw a "scary man" and a "badass but resourceful chick" into a blender and press the switch. This formless mess is the result.
The plot revolves around a villain, Charles Manx, who is seemingly able to live for 140 years or more by `feeding' off the psychic energy of children. Once they're drained of this energy they live in Christmasland which is an "inscape" - a place basically dreamed up by Manx. The protagonist is tattooed, alcoholic, mentally ill, biker chick Vic McQueen, whose life we follow from (roughly) age 12 to her early 30s (present day). She shares Manx's ability to `think' things into existence as she can cause a covered bridge to appear out of thin air, allowing her to travel to anywhere she wants to go - usually with the aim of `finding' something. She escapes from Manx in the early part of the novel and then spends the second half of the novel tracking down Manx after he abducts her 12-year-old son.
Hill doesn't even bother trying to explain any of this beyond some vague notions about the blurred lines between imagination and reality. Despite the fact that Christmasland is, in essence, a figment of Manx's imagination, it can, it seems be blown up with industrial explosives. O.... K....
I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, and might be persuaded to ignore the frankly silly plot if the horror was sufficiently horrible or if the characters were sufficiently engaging. Oops.
There was nothing frightening, unsettling or disturbing. There were a few passages which had the potential to induce slight disquiet but these were mentioned only in passing, as though they were pointers for future script-writers and directors rather than anything worth expanding for the reader. When we finally get to Christmasland, Hill seems to have lost interest. He completely drops the ball. What happened to the dramatic (and massively foreshadowed) showdown between Manx and McQueen? A disheartening damp squib, sadly.
My main grumble, though, was the wholly unlikeable main character of Vic McQueen. Stephen King at least makes you care about the characters. Arguably, King spends too much time filling out subsidiary characters but that's his skill and that's what makes his books enjoyable (for me, at least). Hill has 700 pages to develop the character of Vic McQueen and he still can't make you give a fig. The rest of the characters are cartoon-like and, for such a long book, criminally under-developed.
In his acknowledgements at the end of the book Hill mentions several editors and proof-readers. This book is such a mess that I dread to think what it was like in draft form.
Other readers have reviewed this novel in positive, glowing terms. This is "top notch horror". The premise "radiates malevolence". It "offers a horrifying glimpse at pure evil". If this is the best the horror genre has to offer in 2013 then the genre is in a very poor state indeed. Sigh.
If you like `horror' then my advice would be to give this a mess and instead read Justin Cronin's `The Passage' and `The Twelve' (or wait until next year for the third book in the trilogy).