Last night I finished Horns by Joe Hill, an author I discovered a year or so ago, though he’s apparently been a fairly big deal in the world of comics for some time now as the author of the Locke and Key series. I haven’t read Locke and Key, though I loved his first collection of short stories, 20th Century Ghosts, and liked, though didn’t love, his first novel, Heart-Shaped Box. I think he has a lot of promise as a speculative fiction novelist – a good narrative voice, strong characters, and the ability to create a wonderfully creepy vibe that keeps the reader immersed in his stories. When I read last year that he had a new novel releasing in the spring, I was eager to check it out.
The book has a groovy premise – a guy wakes up after a night of drunken carousing to find that he’s grown horns and inherited the powers of a demon. When he touches someone, their deepest, darkest sins and desires are revealed, and in his presence, people confess to their most depraved fantasies. He can command snakes. I mean, did you hear that? He can command snakes. For me, a life-long lover of fantastic fiction, this was basically one of those, ‘you had me at hello’ moments.
And I liked it, I really did, though probably not as much as I could have, or as much as I wanted to.
The protagonist, Iggy Perrish, is a likeable guy. He always tries to do the right thing: He goes to church regularly, is faithful to his high school sweetheart-girlfriend, volunteers for charities, and seems to be liked by pretty much everyone. He’s the stereotypical ‘boy next door,’ and I guess maybe when it comes down to it that’s really my biggest criticism. Iggy is too nice. In the book he’s believed to have committed a horrible crime by everyone around him, even though his character has never so much as crossed the street without the light. It’s never clear, exactly, why the Devil chose him to get this little gift, other than to get the chance to set things right. No real evil is done and no real evil is revealed, except in the thoughts (and sometimes deeds) of the people around him. To the end, horns, fire and all, Iggy remains a great guy, looking out for everyone around him, using his powers for…well, I won’t reveal that, but you get the point. I’m not sure I can exactly put my finger on it, really, but the entire time I was reading it, the book seemed like it was almost there, brushing the edges of greatness, on the verge of revealing some hidden secret about the nature of mankind and our relationship with evil and how the Devil works. Instead I was left wondering, why? What was in it for Lucifer? Why, of all the wrongs done to innocent people, of all the good guys who somehow can’t win, why was Iggy Perrish chosen?
I give Horns four stars because it was a good, fun read, but I wish I could have given it five. It could have been great.