THIS IS GOING to sound like sacrilege, but Joe Hill is catching up to his pappy.
As many have noted, his dad is a little indie writer by the name of Stephen King—heard of him? Well, Hill is fully aware of his father's shadow; in the author's note to his new book he writes about a motorcycle ride he took with King, "following him along his back roads with the sun on my shoulders. I guess I have been cruising his back roads my whole life. I don't regret it." Nor should he—he's better for it. Hill's new horror-fantasy novel, NOS4A2 (sound it out like good little Renfields!), makes that abundantly clear with chilling, comically maniacal ease.
Hill is no stranger to horror epics; he's also the writer of the exceptional comic series Locke & Key, a mystery about an ancestral New England mansion full of magical keys. It's a beautiful collaboration with illustrator Gabriel Rodríguez, who also contributes his talents to Hill's new 700-page doorstopper.
NOS4A2 tells the story of a tough little cookie named Vic McQueen, who can use her trusty bike to find lost objects, no matter how lost. She makes "inscapes" in reality, using her bike and mind to bridge worlds. One day, in a teenage fit of rage, she sets out to "find trouble," and the 17-year-old gets it in spades at the doorstep of Charles Talent Manx III. He too can bridge realities—only he's not using his powers to find lost teddy bears. He steals kids and ferries them to his hideaway—an inscape he calls Christmasland, an amusement park filled with candy canes and endless repercussion-less fun. What follows is a decades-spanning game of cat-and-mouse between Vic and Manx, every dealing coming at a higher and higher cost to the world-weary Vic.
Hill's personal magical power is in making his characters likeable and broken and relatable, and then putting them into the most harrowing of scenarios. He understands that great horror is seeing someone you care very much about being stalked by a Rolls-Royce-driving monster. And if there are notes of King's style in NOS4A2, it's because Hill inherited an ear for dialogue and easy readability. This is a genetically blessed man who can write a mean story, and he does so in effortless prose that feels natural and breezy, even when he's chasing you down with an autopsy hammer.