Author: Joe Hill
No. of Pages: 720
Origins: William Morrow and Company
Release Date: 30 April 2013
Bottom Line: Exciting, thought-provoking but not necessarily as scary as one might hope or expect
“Victoria McQueen has an uncanny knack for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. When she rides her bicycle over the rickety old covered bridge in the woods near her house, she always emerges in the places she needs to be. Vic doesn’t tell anyone about her unusual ability, because she knows no one will believe her. She has trouble understanding it herself.
Charles Talent Manx has a gift of his own. He likes to take children for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the vanity plate NOS4A2. In the Wraith, he and his innocent guests can slip out of the everyday world and onto hidden roads that lead to an astonishing playground of amusements he calls Christmasland. Mile by mile, the journey across the highway of Charlie’s twisted imagination transforms his precious passengers, leaving them as terrifying and unstoppable as their benefactor.
And then comes the day when Vic goes looking for trouble . . . and finds her way, inevitably, to Charlie.
That was a lifetime ago. Now, the only kid ever to escape Charlie’s unmitigated evil is all grown up and desperate to forget.
But Charlie Manx hasn’t stopped thinking about the exceptional Victoria McQueen. On the road again, he won’t slow down until he’s taken his revenge. He’s after something very special—something Vic can never replace.
As a life-and-death battle of wills builds—her magic pitted against his—Vic McQueen prepares to destroy Charlie once and for all…or die trying…”
Thoughts: NOS4A2 is not quite as terrifying as one might expect. Manx and his henchmen are evil and capable of the worst forms of torture. Indeed, there is something chilling about the children slowly losing their humanity as they travel in the Wraith. Yet, it does not provide those spine-tingling chills or the urgent desire to lock all the doors, close all the curtains, and hide. The story itself is rather sad. Charles’ initial intentions for Christmasland are not necessarily what the end result becomes, just as his reasons for taking the children are somewhat admirable, if misguided. His methodology for taking the children may be cruel and disturbing, but his genuine affection for them is not. It would be an interesting study in character development to see how Charles was before his years in the Wraith began to affect his mental state.
A reader catches glimpses of those possible changes within Manx as the story follows Vic’s path through life. The mental and physical strain on Vic as she makes her journeys through the metaphysical lost and found is very real; it does not require a large strain on one’s imagination to envision her mental state if she would have continued with her journeys across the bridge. Such imaginings make it easy for readers to sympathize with Manx to some extent. After all, he started out just like Vic does – innocent and human.
As for sympathetic characters, Vic’s trials and tribulations are heart-breaking, made more so by the fact that they occur because of her magical ability to traverse time and space. With power comes consequences, and the consequences she faces are harsh indeed. Her fragile relationship with her son, her nonexistent relationship with her father, and her tense relationship with her mother have roots in the good deeds she accomplished as a child. This makes her eventual clashes with authority all the more tragic if only because she is the living embodiment of the cliché “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
NOS4A2 may not be terrifying in a traditional sense, but it is definitely suspenseful. The story not only dominates a reader’s attention, it flows so seamlessly as to prevent readers from contemplating the story’s conclusion in advance. While there is one general path down which the plot flows, what happens along that path continues to surprise, entertain, and build suspense. Mr. Hill does not use a traditional plot twist to create tension and interest. Rather, he structures the whole story in such a way that readers have no time for forethought about the story’s direction. The surprises occur naturally, much as a deer standing in the road surprises a driver coming around a curve. The possibility of such an occurrence happening is always there, but it is not something a reader/driver can ever predict. It is the type of novel where a reader is very much a passive passenger in the ride that is NOS4A2.
For readers looking to repeat the deliciously scary experience of reading Mr. Hill’s Heart-Shaped Box, NOS4A2 will be a disappointment. Vic and Manx are too sympathetic, and the damage done to the children is chilling but not heart-stoppingly so. Add to that the fact that the title is slightly misleading, and the result is a novel that is entertaining and thought-provoking but not frightening.