Joe Hill’s NOS4A2: A Blend of Dark Fantasy and Horror

Cover of NOS4A2I was completely blown away by Joe Hill’s book, NOS4A2. I have read some of his previous work – Horns and Heart-Shaped Box – but with his most recent book, Hill has definitely crafted a treasure. It’s all here in this book. It is tight and it is just a lovely little package of dark fantasy and horror wrapped up and waiting for you. You must go read this now.

The gist of the story is that Victoria (Vic) McQueen learns as a young girl that she can travel to wherever she needs to go via a bridge – the Shorter Way Bridge – that just kind of appears for her. The bridge is magical and conjured into reality by Vic when she concentrates on an object or place, and initially she can only conjure the bridge when she is on her Raleigh. She begins by using the bridge to help her find things that she is looking for – a lost bracelet, a misplaced picture, etc. One day, though, Vic goes out looking for trouble and finds it in Charlie Manx, who steals children and travels his own version of magic roads to a place he calls Christmasland. Vic escapes Manx when she is a child, but later, as an adult, she must find and confront him again in order to rescue her own child.

I liked that this book follows Vic from childhood to adulthood. I also like the character Hill has created – she is a real woman, and not a stereotype. I know several women like her and everything about her personality, skills, and history rings true. She has tattoos and knows how to use both a wrench and a pen. What I think I especially like about the book is how skillful Hill is at writing this woman. This is clearly written by a man who finds strong, eccentric women attractive and is not threatened by them. I found myself thinking about this a lot as I read. I am well aware that Joe Hill is the son of Stephen King, and while Hill has most definitely made his own name as a writer, I did find myself thinking about some of Stephen King’s work – especially Lisey’s Story, a book in which I felt King did a superior job of writing a real woman. Both of these men get it.

But, Hill definitely has his own style. I can feel my generation in his words. It’s something underlying the descriptions,

Vic squeezed the brake, let the Raleigh gently roll to a stop. It was even more dilapidated than she remembered, the whole structure canting to the right so it looked as if a strong wind could topple it into the Merrimack. The lopsided entrance was framed in tangles of ivy. She smelled bats. At the far end, she saw a faint smudge of light … The bridge waited for her to ride out across it. When she did, she knew that she would drop into nothing. She would forever be remembered as the stoned chick who rode her bike right off a cliff and broke her neck. The prospect didn’t frighten her. It would be the next-best thing to being kidnapped by some awful old man (the Wraith) and never heard from again.

the choice of characters,

Lou worked out of a garage he had opened with some cash given to him by his parents, and they lived in the trailer in back, two miles outside of Gunbarrel, a thousand miles from anything. Vic didn’t have a car and probably spent a hundred and sixty hours a week at home. The house smelled of piss-soaked diapers and engine parts, and the sink was always full. In retrospect Vic was only surprised she didn’t go crazy sooner. She was surprised that more young mothers didn’t lose it. When your tits had become canteens and the soundtrack of your life was hysterical tears and mad laughter, how could anyone expect you to remain sane?

the towns and locations. There is a rougher feeling that is smoothed out by the Christmas theme of the book and the magic that infuses the story, from the Shorter Way Bridge to Manx’s malicious car. While it feels much like something King would write, it’s not. It’s all Hill. And it’s all wonderful. I want to carry this book around with me and read it again. I love that there isn’t a neatly wrapped ending, and that the comments he provides in “A Note on the Type” are even less neat than the “official” ending. I think I’m a little in love with Joe Hill at this point, so it’s possible that I can’t really talk about this book coherently. Man. Joe Hill. I can’t wait for the next one!

Wolfsangel: Dark Viking Fantasy by M.D. Lachlan

Cover of bookA good werewolf story is hard for me to resist, and M.D. Lachlan’s Wolfsangel manages to combine two things that I enjoy: werewolves and Norse mythology. Twin boys, Vali and Felig, are the center of the tale, one of whom carries the dark legacy of changing into a wolf, while the other is destined to be his brother’s captor and killer. At the center of it all, is a young girl, Adelisa, who loves both of them in her own way. Authun, the king of the Nordic settlement, is searching for a child said to be stolen from the gods and who will bring glory to his people and restore their kingdom. He finds more than he is looking for with these two boys, and unknowingly stumbles into something much bigger – a cyclical story that has been playing out for centuries and which will continue to play out until some future bloody end.

I love the Norse influence in this book and Lachlan uses runes throughout his work. The Witch Queen in his story learns these runes, but while the first rune she gained was not too difficult and showed her to be “chosen”, in order to gain use of more runes she must go through horrific physical trials to prove herself worthy. Once this has been accomplished, she is able to visualize them and call upon their powers. There is, however, a special rune – wolfsangel – that becomes important in the story.

The brothers, Vali and Felig, both fall in love with Adelisa, which is complicated to begin with, but the situation becomes worse as Felig gradually becomes more and more wolf-like. When Adelisa is captured, Vali and Felig team up to rescue her. These characters and their increasingly complex relationship are well-written, and their story is both bloody and tragic. Added to the mix, is a mysterious trickster figure appearing off an on throughout the story who may or may not be the boys’ father.

This book is incredibly dark, and I absolutely love Lachlan’s writing. There are scenes – Cover of Fenrirmostly with the trickster character – that I find unbelievably magical. He does a great job of entwining story with myth, and he has a nice variety of characters and creatures: witches, a werewolf, and Viking berserkers. I enjoyed the book enough to also read the second in the series, Fenrirwhich is actually even darker and bloodier than the first. The most clever part of Lachlan’s writing, though, is in his shifting of the roles the characters play in the ongoing tale of Odin, Loki, and Fenrir and the constant attempt to bring about Ragnarok. In order to fully enjoy this part of Lachlan’s writing, you need to read at least the second book, as well.

Cover of Lord of SlaughterFinding the third book, Lord of Slaughter, was a bit more difficult, but it looks like it is available now and I have it on my list. I think this was probably due to some of the poor reviews that the first two books received. Quite honestly, I would say that the poor reviews are undeserved. The main problem with these books is that they are not easy reads. Lachlan writes in an interesting prose and he doesn’t babysit the reader. If you are not familiar with Norse mythology, you may not get as much out of what is going on, and he doesn’t stop to fill you in. Actually, to me, that was part of the fun of reading these books – figuring out on my own what he was doing, making those connections on my own to the myths, and then seeing how he had the story play out. So, if you are up for a slightly more challenging read, these books are worth the time!