Victoria McQueen has a secret gift for finding things: a misplaced bracelet, a missing photograph, answers to unanswerable questions. On her Raleigh Tuff Burner bike, she makes her way to a rickety covered bridge that, within moments, takes her wherever she needs to go, whether it’s across Massachusetts or across the country.
Charles Talent Manx has a way with children. He likes to take them for rides in his 1938 Rolls-Royce Wraith with the NOS4A2 vanity plate. With his old car, he can slip right out of the everyday world, and onto the hidden roads that transport them to an astonishing – and terrifying – playground of amusements he calls “Christmasland.”
Then, one day, Vic goes looking for trouble—and finds Manx. That was a lifetime ago. Now Vic, the only kid to ever escape Manx’s unmitigated evil, is all grown up and desperate to forget. But Charlie Manx never stopped thinking about Victoria McQueen. He’s on the road again and he’s picked up a new passenger: Vic’s own son.
First off, a confession: I'm not a big Stephen King fan, I've only read a few of his books and short stories. As for his son, Joe Hill, this is the first of his work I've tried out.
Another important side-note, this time about the book: This is not a 'vampire book,' for anyone that might assume so from the title. Though the main character does drain energy from his victims in a fashion, if you come into this expecting a play on the current vampire craze, you'll get something different than what you expect. (This could be either good or bad depending on what you hope for.)
Now, onto the review:
NOS4A2 (or N0S4R2 in Europe) is really about Victoria McQueen's discovery of her power and what it does to her as she goes through life. Charles Manx, our villain, is more of a background
character until the last quarter of the book. It works out well this way, allowing Manx to provide the atmosphere and tension as we grow up with Victoria.
She learns at a young age that she has the power to call up an imaginary bridge into existence that allows her to travel anywhere she needs to go. She is not the only one with powers to travel using her imagination and learns as much when she meets a young woman, Maggie, who uses her own powers to give her a sort of psychic guidance using scrabble tiles. This is where Vic learns of Charlie Manx, his Rolls Royce Wraith, and Christmasland.
The story feels a bit slow at time, which is odd considering the handful of leaps through Victoria's life and she grows up and has a family of her own. As an adult, she eventually convinces herself that so many of her memories were a delusion, a psychotic break from her own encounter with Manx in her teenage years, that ended up with his arrest. It's only after the final 'skip-ahead' in her life, after Manx is again a threat to her and her son, that the story really picks up. That final act of the book feels like you are finally getting to the real story, and though the backstory had its place in building to that point, much of it felt padded.
The characters in the book are great. Watching Victoria grow up from innocent child to the dysfunctional adult through years of trying to make sense of the strange things she's experienced, years of being tormented by Manx's past victims, plus deal with her own crazy life is heartbreaking at times and felt like a fairly realistic way to address mixing the real world with the supernatural. No matter how much of a mess she's made her life, the reader roots for her to do what needs to be done by the end. Her husband Lou, for his small role, is a very lovable character, even to those in the story, and it's nice to see that, even though he wants to be the typical hero, to Vic he already has been by just being himself.
Charlie Manx and his assistant, Bing Partridge are both great villains. Manx obviously was the biggest danger of the book with supernatural powers, but the fact that I consistently pictured him as Gru from Despicable Me and his often goofy demeanor really didn't make him feel like a true threat at times. When he did take action however, his cruel enjoyment about his actions worked to his favor. Personally, I found Bing to be much more frightening, being not quite all there mentally and going about his evil work so casually, there was a realistic serial killer feel to the character. Both of the villains had good 'horror movie' appearances, the creepy old man Charlie in his dapper clothing and old car and Bing in his old military uniform and gas mask. It made quite good imagery as you pictured these characters going about there 'despicable' deeds.
From the few Stephen King books I've read, Hill's work read very similarly, so I would imagine that any King fan would enjoy this work and possibly rate it even higher than the 4/5 I gave it. Coming from fantasy, where you get so much information about a story chapter after chapter, NOS4A2 felt a bit slow at times, but it was still a very engaging read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone out there looking to dive into a modern day horror story.