Absolutely fantastic storytelling and character building. Joe Hill has finally embraced his legacy and the result is something that is fresh and familiar at the same time. I have to admit, the title gave me some trepidation. It's...well, corny and reminds me of something I might see on a YA shelf in a bookstore. Instead, Hill delivers a whirlwind of a story with one of the most realistic, likable and capable female protagonists in popular literature (well done, sir).
Victoria (Vic) McQueen, in addition to having a badass name, is not perfect. Young Vic discovers she has the ability to find lost things by using her Raleigh bike to traverse a bridge that's always where she needs it and takes her exactly where she needs to go. Its usage takes a toll, one that she willingly pays to escape a dysfunctional home and in childlike attempts to fix her situation. When her attempts fail, Vic is thrown into the turmoil of divorce and teendom simultaneously, leading to some poor decisions which ultimately set her in the path of Charles Talent Manx, a child abductor and murderer whose on version of the Raleigh is a 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the titular vanity plates. The story brilliantly modernizes and sophisticates the classic vampire legend and the story is a phenomenally gripping page-turner full of tension and surprises.
Hill pulls no punches. McQueen is no saint and sometimes bad stuff happens and the heroes don't always win everything they want, which adds to the reality of the tale. Good people get the shaft and they move on with their lives the best they can, adding to the sense of pathos, tragedy and everyday heroism at the heart of the story. Supporting Vic are a panoply of amazing characters including a sketchy, but sincere drug-addled librarian, Vic's alcoholic, but loving father, her overweight and sickeningly nerdy motorcycle-riding lover and her amazingly bright and perceptive son - all well-developed and robust characters in their own right. Like the best of his father's works, NOS4A2
is a character-driven tour de force that captivates you so completely that you don't mind the absurdities of little things like Christmasland. The host of heroes is offset by a pair of wickedly designed personalities: Manx and his assistant Bing Partridge. An odder pair is hard to imagine, and at times they're devilishly funny. Beyond those episodes of comedic relief however, the pair are downright creepy. An aged magician with hinted at pedophile-tendencies and a demented, gas mask wearing simpleton with mommy issues and a need to impress in all the wrong ways. Surprisingly violent in bursts after periods of slow creepiness, the absurd pairing works well to create a terrifying oppositional force for Vic.
The pacing and character development is pitch-perfect which makes this a perfect winter thriller.
As a side note, I was thrilled to see Hill start to build bridges to his other works the way King has built a Kingverse. The idea that the events of Locke and Key
, Heart Shaped Box
and Horns take place in the same imaginative geography presents so many possibilities for a Dark Tower-like opus in the future. One can hope...