Horns

Posted: February 19, 2014 in Book reviews

By Joe Hill who, in case you didn’t know, is the son of Stephen King…yes that Stephen King.

Ignatius “Ig” Perrish wakes up one morning after a drunken binge to find that he has horns growing out of his head. He has no recollection of the previous evening, except the vague notion that he did something bad. He quickly discovers that although other people can see the horns, they don’t seem especially surprised by them, he also discovers that now he has them, people feel compelled to reveal their innermost secrets and desires to him, as well as being honest about how they feel about him, brutally honest in many cases, because you see Ig isn’t the most popular person in his hometown of Gideon.

This is because a year earlier his childhood sweetheart, Merrin, was raped and murdered out by the old foundry (where Ig spent the last night getting drunk on the anniversary of her death) and though he was never convicted of the crime, most people still think he did it, including his parents, as Ig discovers to his horror as the power of the horns means he learns things about people he never wanted to know. After his gran tells him what she really thinks of him Ig pushes her wheelchair down the hill, but worse is to come when his brother, Terry, admits that he knows who really killed Merrin.

Ig runs to the old foundry where he lives as a hermit whilst he tries to come to terms with his increasingly demonic appearance, as well as planning his revenge, but will the devil have his due?

I have to admit that Horns had a heck of a hook, a man starts to manifest signs of being a demon and discovers he can not only make people tell him their darkest secrets, but also push them towards acting them out if he so chooses (though much like Satan he can’t make you do anything you didn’t really want to do).

Once the story gets going it doesn’t quite unfold as I was expecting, which is both a good and a bad thing. I certainly can’t call the novel predictable, even if one particular character is so clichéd it’s painful, but the flipside of its originality is the fact that the story tends to meander a bit in places. One early flashback in particular proved a bit of a slog to get through, though luckily the pace soon picked up again.

Hill is a good writer. For the most part his characters feel real, in particular Ig and his brother Terry, and, even though she’s dead when the story starts, Merrin, and the parts where Hill describes the emotional breakup of Ig and Merrin’s relationship was heartrending to read.

His prose is descriptive without becoming overly flowery, and he manages to shoehorn in a lot of devil and religious related imagery and concepts. The central conceit is interesting, and Hill makes some good points about Lucifer; e.g., if the Devil punishes sinners, doesn’t that suggest that he and God are on the same side?

The story itself is paper thin however, and feels like it’s been stretched out. I’m not saying it isn’t enough for a novel, but it probably could have been chopped down without losing much impact. In particular some of the flashbacks are a tad redundant.

The villain of the piece is pretty one dimensional as well, a misogynistic psychopath with no real character beyond being a wrong un, and it’s fortunate that Hill reveals the killer’s identity early on, because it’s pretty obvious anyway (in fact given it’s a small town it’s surprising that the townsfolk didn’t suspect him, even if Ig seemed the likeliest suspect.)

Well written and original, I couldn’t help feeling slightly disappointed by the end of the book. There are lots of interesting threads seeded during the story that seem to be suggesting things would come together by the end in a way that explains what’s going on in a wider context, and whilst in some cases these earlier plot points do come around again (in particular a scene in a ‘potentially’ imaginary treehouse) on the whole many points aren’t, in particular with relation to the villain, and if there is a bigger picture to see at the end of the story, maybe I’m just not smart enough to see it, or perhaps this is just a fairly simple story about a boy who becomes a demon?

Horns, interesting and infuriating in equal measure but I will pick up other things Hill has written now.

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Comments
  1. […] I had read the book and had been somewhat conflicted about how I felt about it (read my review here) but I decided to give it a go and, on the whole, I’ll give it a tentative thumbs up. In some […]

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