NOS4A2 by Joe Hill
Genre: Fiction, horror, suspense, you thought A Nightmare Before Christmas was the most terrifying thing to happen to Christmas
Rating: 4.87 out of 5 stars
Summary: Seemingly immortal Charlie Manx is a possible serial-killer and even more likely vampire who lures children into his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2 and takes them to a supposedly magical place called Christmasland inside his mind to save their souls from the dangers of their parents. And everything was going fine until the Brat arrived at his Sleigh House and changed both their lives forever. For good or bad. Set across the decades and in various worlds, this is the frightfully jolly Christmas novel you’ve been waiting for.
There’s not much to say about Joe Hill’s newest novel NOS4A2 except everything, and to gush that it’s my favorite of his novels, even if it forced me to change all my computer passwords just in case. And I thought I was being so clever with my hilarious letter and number combination for the past five years.
It also features some fabulous artwork from the co-creator and illustrator of Joe Hill’s “so damn good” Locke & Key comic book series, Gabriel Rodriguez who fills the pages and the endpapers with terrifying artwork. If you were one of the lucky ones to get your hands on the Subterannean Press special edition of the novel (cover below), which I sadly was not (and I might still be crying about it), you are in for even more illustrated treats, as well as the novel’s alternate ending and the original novella which inspired the story-heavy 700-page tome.
Me? I’ll be over here checking eBay until someone decides to sell one.
NOS4A2 spans several decades, following Manx as he kidnaps children, starting in the late 80’s before eventually being locked up, put into a coma and re-awakening back in 2008 where he is free to once again wreak havoc on the unsuspecting world. That is unless our kick-ass heroine Vic has anything to say and do about it.
The antagonist of the novel is one of your not so run of the mill likeable villains who calls himself Charles Talent Manx III (Charlie Manx if you want a shorthand version). What he lacks in looks- he sounds pretty terrifying and hideous- he makes up for in humor, drawing children and their so-called awful parents into the back of his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith. Why no one thinks the vanity plate which reads NOS4A2 is a giant warning label of “cars not to climb into” is beyond me, but it should say all it needs to about his charm.
The adults he takes to a terrifying place called the House of Sleep run by his side-kick Bing, the Gasmask Man who puts them into a gingerbread-scented sleep. The children he takes to Christmasland, which is located in a place within his mind, referred to as his inscape. As he so gleefully tells Bing, there the children he steals will live in happiness and immortality forever which sounds all well and good until you realize what is really making them so happy and carefree. After you hear his tragic back story however you’ll feel a tad bad for him and realize that what he’s doing isn’t out of malice, but because he believes that he is actually changing the world for the better.
Things take an unexpected turn for Manx when he runs into Vic “the Brat” who travels to his Sleigh House, the entry point to Christmasland looking for trouble and an escape from her own childhood via her inscape. While Manx generally loves saving children from abusive existences at the hands of brutish parents, Vic is much too old for saving and a terrifying fight for her life begins that will change them both forever.
We learn all about inscapes from the sassy, stuttering librarian Maggie Leigh who has purple hair and a gun paperweight that reads: “property of A. Chekhov.” She teaches Vic that in life there are two worlds, the real world and the one inside our heads which she calls our inspace. Her own is her endless bag of Scrabble tiles. By using a knife (although not a literal one a la The Subtle Knife), humanity is able to physically enter this inspace. Because really, fantasies are just realities waiting to be made real.
Whereas Manx’s knife to cut the bonds of reality is his car, Vic’s is her bike, a Raleigh Tuff Burner, possibly the coolest bike ever, given to her by her father. She uses it to will a covered bridge called the Shorter Way Bridge into being and travel wherever she desires to rescue lost objects. Unfortunately this so-called super power comes with deadly consequences, which she learns on the numerous occasions that she happens to come upon Charlie Manx.
The United States is full of these inscapes (see above), which include the Treehouse of the Mind found in Hill’s novel Horns, the Lovecraft Keyhole in his comic book series Locke & Key, the deadly Night Road in Heart-Shaped Box, and the Pennywise Circus from his father Stephen King’s book It. Yet another inscape, the Graveyard of What Might Be, a place which Manx learns about the so-called fates that befall his young charges, AKA what could happen to the children of America if Charlie doesn’t take them to Christmasland. They do say that the road to Hell is paved with good intentions after all, and kidnapping children and altering them to make them happy forever sure sounds like a good thing gone wrong.
From a car that seems to have a murderous will of its own, to Christmas music that strangely plays in the summer and an evil villain who can travel to other realities through dreams, there is a whole lot to fear in NOS4A2. But the real fear comes in the form of things that could actually harm the reader, specifically, not being good enough parents to the children they choose to bring into this world. So much so that they may be better off with a convicted murder who feeds off their innocence. Absolutely terrifying.
A word to the wise, don’t forget to read all of the book! Yes, even the afterword and especially “a note on the type.” Think of them as a movie’s after-credits Easter Egg.
- Charlie Manx is the perfect sympathetic villain
- Don’t mind skipping from perspective to perspective because they’re all good
- Travels across space, time and even between books
- Truly imaginative and terrifying
- Nerd references abound in the second-half of the novel
- Could drag on at times, but that just upped the suspense
For more of Joe Hill’s equally amazing work, I highly suggest any of his other writing, including his short story collection 20th Century Ghosts, his soon-to-end graphic novel series Locke & Key, the terrifying novel Heart-Shaped Box that will keep you awake at night and the demonic, about to be made into a movie with Daniel Radcliffe, Horns. As for NOS4A2? That you should start now. It’s never too late to have a scary, jolly, Christmas in July.