Science Fiction and Fantasy Association of New Zealand

Nos4a2 NOS4R2
by Joe Hill

Supplied for review by Hachette New Zealand

Reviewed By: Alan Robson
Jacqui Smith

Charlie Manx rides the roads in a vintage 1938 Rolls-Royce Silver Wraith. The car has the vanity plate NOS4R2 (nosferatu) and Charlie Manx is indeed a vampire. He steals the souls of children and transports them along hidden roads to Christmasland, a place where it is Christmas every day and where Charlie assures them they will be happy all the time.

Victoria McQueen is a child who can find lost things. If she pedals really, really fast on her Raleigh bicycle she is transported to a hidden bridge and when she crosses the bridge she finds the lost things on the other side.

But one day she finds something that isn't lost; she finds Charlie Manx. Somehow she manages to escape from his clutches and Manx is arrested and sent to prison. The years pass and Charlie Manx dies in custody. His body is autopsied and the parts scattered.

But that isn't the end of Charlie Manx. Oh no – there are children who need to be taken to Christmasland and there is one child in particular that Charlie Manx has his eyes on, Victoria's son Wayne.

And Victoria now has to find the most important lost thing that she's ever gone looking for.

This book is a rip-roaring page turner, quite impossible to put down. It's grim and scary and utterly involving. You just have to know what happens next, and next and next...

The tension never lets up and the story gallops along. The book is a 700 page door stopper, but nevertheless it feels much shorter. The time just flew past as I read it and I confess I was a little disappointed when it finally finished. I was having so much fun reading the story that I wanted it to carry on longer – and I almost never say that about 700 page door stopper novels!

It's an open secret that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son so it's probably not a surprise that the book has a very Stephen King feel to it in terms of plot and development. And there are scattered references to Stephen King novels throughout the text, for those who have eyes to see them, as Joe pays homage to his dad. (Amusingly, there's also a passing reference to a Stephen King novel that isn't due out until later this year!). Nevertheless, this is Joe Hill's book, not Stephen King's and Hill is definitely demonstrating his maturity as a writer. This is the book that will make his reputation and propel him into the front rank of horror writers. Watch out Stephen King – your throne is about to topple.

For all the bibliophiles out there, you might be interested to learn that the title of the UK edition is NOS4R2, but the title of the American edition is NOS4A2. I have no explanation for this anomaly.

- Alan Robson

I have to admit that what attracted me to NOS4R2 was the clever title, the brilliant cover design, and the fact that Joe Hill is the son of the notable writer Stephen King. I knew it would be modern horror, and the line between modern horror and urban fantasy is a bit fuzzy, isn’t it? I discovered that it’s not so much a matter of content, so much as the writer’s intent. Joe Hill is trying to be unsettling, unnerving, to shock the reader. And to a large extent, he succeeds.

The fantasy element here is the inscapes, the territories of the mind, and the means to get there. In urban fantasy these would be dreams, strange and bizarre – here they are nightmares, strange and bizarre; and out to eat you, body and soul! Vic McQueen as a young girl discovers a talent for finding things, for creating a literal bridge between here and wherever the missing thing is found. As a teenager, she makes the mistake of looking for trouble, and finds it, in the form of the vampiric Charlie Manx. She’s rescued by the man who will become the father of her child, Lou Carmody, who is a geek, a comics fan, and let’s face it, the only character in the novel I actually liked!

From that point, it becomes a down hill ride for Vic, down into alcoholism and insanity, her talent sending her crazy. And the phone calls from dead children don’t help. They have a child, and after the car NOS4R2 and Charlie Manx come back from the dead they comes looking for the boy. And finds him… And so, Vic must re-discover her talent in order to rescue her own.

So far so good. I’m not going to dispute Hill’s writing skill, he’s learned his letters literally at the feet of a master. I will, however, criticize the truly excessive use of foul language, which I found off-putting, to the extent that I was starting to agree with the villain on the subject of the heroine’s mouth! Don’t read this book to children, don’t read it at Christmas – and I do NOT want to see the movie.

- Jacqui Smith

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