Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: Horns by Joe Hill

HORNS by Joe Hill - Cover Image
By Joe Hill

Ignatius Perrish may seem like an unlikely name, but then again, he's an unlikely hero. After a drunken (and frankly blasphemous) night in the woods, Ig wakes up to discover that he has suddenly sprouted devil horns from his head. It would be easy to pass this off as a hallucination, if not for the fact that others can see them, too. Such is the power of the horns, though, that nobody flees in terror at the sight of them. Instead, they feel the need to confess their darkest deeds and deepest secrets--much like one might do to a priest, only seeking approval rather than atonement.

After discovering how his family members truly feel about him, he realizes that he may be able to use his horns to solve the great mystery in his life: who raped and killed his long-time girlfriend Merrin Williams, a crime for which the entire town believes him guilty.

A good deal of this story is actually backstory, flashbacks to the past that explores the burgeoning relationship of Ig, Merrin, and their third-wheel friend Lee Tourneau. These flashbacks are scarcely dark or horrifying except when viewed in the light of what's to come.

We're actually told who murdered Merrin fairly early in the story, so as a mystery, it leaves something to be desired. However there is still a great deal about that night for Ig to discover, and a great deal of vengeance for him to dish out.

This is Hill's second novel (following Heart Shaped Box) and is far from a sophomore slump. Quite the opposite. While I enjoyed Box quite a bit, I found Horns to be even more enjoyable--kind of an urban legend rendition of Kafka's Metamorphosis, with a dash of noir and a smattering of American gothic.

Ig is a great character, and we see him go from something of an angel to something of a devil over the course of the story. Even when he does terrible things, we still find ourselves rooting for and sympathizing with him. Lee is a suitable friendly-foil, who grows into something of a direct opposite of his pal Ig. Merrin, though dead for most of the story, never fully feels fleshed-out, unfortunately. We only know her through the eyes of others, and all of their views are slightly tainted with fantasy. She comes across only as a dream woman, and never feels quite real.

There are a number of pro-Satan passages in this book, which are bound to offend some people--but the lead character is a devil, so it shouldn't come as a big surprise. If you are an easily-offended believer, you may want to skip this one, but the rest of you should definitely check it out.

Even if a few moments are just a little too pat for its own good, and the ending is a little weak compared to what came before it, the ride to get there was so much fun, I still recommend it highly.



  1. This was one of my favorite books from last year - I also thought it was much better than Heart-Shaped Box. Have you checked out 20th Century Ghosts? Hill's short fiction is some of his best work IMO. I'm really looking forward to checking out NOS4A2, but am waiting for a weekend where I can just clear my schedule and blast through it.

    1. Eric: I have 20th Century Ghosts, but I haven't read it yet. I have to be in the right state of mind to read short fiction, and I've got so many novels piled up that I just haven't started in on it. I'm looking forward to NOS4A2, as well, though I'm pretty much in the dark about it plot-wise. If possible, I'd like to go into it completely blind.

      Thanks for stopping by!


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