Author: Joe Hill
Synopsis (Courtesy of Powell’s Books): “Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with a thunderous hangover, a raging headache…and a pair of horns growing from his temples.
At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.
Once the righteous Ig had enjoyed the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned musician and younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, he had security, wealth, and a place in his community. Ig had it “all,” and more — he had Merrin and a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.
But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside…
Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look — a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge…
It’s time the devil had his due…”
Thoughts: For those readers who enjoyed Joe Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, Horns is just as enjoyable, although it evokes an entirely different form of fear than his first novel. Make no mistake, it remains an intense psychological thriller, but the ghosts going bump in the night are different, more realistic and frankly, more interesting than scary. Rather than facing murderous ghosts, this time around the bad guys are more mental, more personal.
Make no mistake, Ig is not presented in the most sympathetic of lights. Yet, given everything he has faced and everything he discovers, the reader cannot help but cheer him on as he discovers his strength of character and finally faces his torturers. For, tortured Ig definitely is. He not only faces the withdrawal of friends and family members, he faces his own self-disgust at his own inaction after Merrin’s death.
In a cruel twist of fate, Ig’s new horns and attached powers inform Ig that he is not the only one suffering on the inside. Everyone has a demon or two (or three) inside that s/he keeps hidden or negates through self-control. Frankly put, one never knows what is truly going on inside someone else. The question then remains, just what is supposed to happen if or when those secrets are learned by someone else?
Ig’s fall from grace, if you will, presents an intense theological debate on suffering and the different degrees and/or forms of evil. Does one’s thoughts make them evil? If a person never acts on evil intentions, does that make him or her evil by default? Why does a Higher Power, no matter what form it takes, allow us to suffer such depths of despair? Questions of this ilk abound throughout the novel, with Mr. Hill presenting his opinions while leaving room for each reader to form his or her own.
As Ig discovers through the learning curve associated with using his new powers, what happens when one discovers a person’s true nature? Horns is a fascinating answer to that question, while raising many additional questions the reader must answer. The result is a novel that scares with the possibilities of truth rather than from spooky creatures or other, more conventional scare tactics.
Thank you to HarperCollins Publishers for my review copy of this novel!