Saturday, December 07, 2013

NOS-4R2 – review

Author: Joe Hill

First Published: 2013

Contains spoilers

The Blurb: Young Victoria McQueen has a gift for finding things. All she has to do is ride her bike across the Shorter Way Bridge and she’ll come out wherever she needs to be… even if that’s hundreds of miles away. But it turns out that she’s not the only one with a special ability.

There are others… like Charlie Manx, who takes children to Christmasland in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with its Nos4R2 vanity plate. Only by the time they get there his passengers have changed, utterly. They’ve become Charlie’s children; as unstoppable and insane as Manx himself.

Only one kid ever escaped Charlie Manx: Vic McQueen. But her first brush with Manx lit the fuse on a life-and-death battle of wills… a battle that explodes a quarter of a century later.

Because Manx has taken Vic’s son. And Vic McQueen is going to get him back.

The review: Joe Hill, if you didn’t know, is Stephen King’s son. I wasn’t going to mention that but he includes – in the narrative of this book – a reference to the True Knot, who are a group of psychic vampires in King’s Doctor Sleep – they eat people’s psychic ability (the shinning). Manx, the bad guy of this novel, is mentioned in Doctor Sleep also and in NOS-4R2 he says he is in the same line of business as the True Knot. This ties the authors together in details and thus I mention the familial bond.

We should also note that this is called NOS-4A2 in the US – perhaps due to a perception of pronunciation. Of course the name refers to Nosferatu, eine Symphonie des Grauens, but it’s not entirely original – Nos-4-a2 was the name of the robot vampire in Buzz Lightyear of Star Command. We discover in book that the first film that Manx and his (deceased) first wife saw in the cinema was Nosferatu.

So Manx is our vampire, he (or more accurately his car) eats the unhappiness from children. If you think that doesn’t sound too bad it leaves them without inhibition, without remorse. The car needs them to power it and, in its turn, the car can heal Manx. Indeed he and the car are intimately linked, destroy the car and kill the man (Manx does die but, when his vehicle is restored, he returns to life – despite a partial autopsy. Meanwhile – on the trip to Christmasland – the journey takes the children’s teeth and they are replaced with rows of fishhook fangs, there skin becomes white and freezing cold and black veins can be seen under the surface of the skin. In Christmasland they never age (there is a twisted version of Peter Pan here).

The wraith is Manx’s tool to access his powers and access Christmasland – an inscape, it is a real (normally inaccessible) place and also part of his own mind. Likewise Vic has a bike to get to the Shorter Way Bridge (her short cut through reality and distance) and later a Triumph motorbike. There is a cost – Manx has lost a human part of himself, Vic gets a pain in her left eye and feverish when she uses her bridge (it is the cost of so much energy being expended). Worse she can lose parts of her mind – represented as bats under the roof of the bridge that kind of have her face. Manx needs someone else to power the car into the secret roads he drives on and the car slips back into our reality when the sun comes up. Hill, of course, is playing with aspects of the genre with these motifs.

I understand all is not perfect in his research. Manx’ henchman uses Sevoflurane to anaesthetise victims and Hill suggests that it makes people suggestible (I don’t know if it does) but also that it is flammable and this is plot important – except that Sevoflurane isn’t flammable. However, you know what, I only found that out afterwards and even had I known, well I was enjoying the book and think I would have just gone along with it.

Because that is the main thing, the book rocketed along and I enjoyed it, I enjoyed the fact that everyone in the book (one way or another) was flawed. I enjoyed the story as laid out. I enjoyed the prose. A little derivative in places (aren’t most things) but most definitely an interesting use of familiar elements to make something that felt very fresh, had an unusual form of vampirism (technically I guess we could say we have vampires (the children), an energy vampire (Manx) and a vampiric machine (the wraith)) and, of course, the Christmas and horror themes combined are an antidote for too much “Ho! Ho! Ho!” 7.5 out of 10.

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