Review: N0S4A2

NOS4A2 - Joe Hill

N0S4A2 is a standalone horror story written by Joe Hill, son of Stephen King.  This was my first time reading anything he’d written.  Maybe it’s because I read a lot more fantasy than I do horror, but this book felt as much like a fantasy book to me as it did a horror book.  I guess that line is a little blurry, at least in my mind.  There were definitely elements of horror to it, but I never felt scared, not even a little bit.  I expect it might bother others, though, especially mothers.  Maybe all those horror books I read in junior high left me a little numb…

There are several characters in this book, but the one I thought of as the “main” character was a girl named Vic.  She starts off as an 8-year-old, but grows into an adult over the course of the story.  Vic has a special skill.  She can find lost things by riding her bike over a non-existent bridge.  Clearly there’s a lot more to the explanation than that, but I don’t want to spoil the fun.  Meanwhile, kids are being kidnapped and taken to a place called Christmasland, where they can have all sorts of fun forever and ever... as long as they don't mind becoming deranged.  I didn’t know when I started this book that I was picking such an appropriate time of the year for it!  If horror books tend to bother you, though, you might not want to read this book until you can safely go through your days without hearing any Christmas music anywhere.

I liked this book, for the most part, but I also have complaints.  I liked the general story, and I liked the characters.  Sometimes I was annoyed by their decisions, but I didn’t feel like they were doing stupid things just because the author needed them to do stupid things so he could move the plot forward.  At times I couldn’t put the book down, but there were also times when it felt like a slog.  There were a few cases of what I call Omniscient Gut Syndrome, which is one of my pet peeves.  This is that dastardly disease that causes a character’s gut to be all-knowing.  The gut tells the character, and thus the reader, that something is true even though there hasn’t been any tangible evidence.  The character “just knows” it’s true, or “feels that it’s true”, or “her thought feels right to her”.

I also thought there were a lot of small details that didn’t quite fit correctly, and some plot threads that were really far-fetched even within the confines of the fictional story.  These things dragged me out of the story and niggled at me throughout the day when I wasn’t reading.  I could come up with my own explanations for many (but not all) of them, but I felt like I was doing some of the author’s work for him.  

I have a couple examples in the spoiler tags.


The whole idea of Maggie’s tiles fell in the far-fetched category for me.  They weren’t clearly defined and therefore seemed mostly like a plot device to help steer the story.  Where does the info come from?  How could the titles “chatter” about Vic for months in advance and yet not know the least useful clue about other things?  I guess one could really ask the same question about Vic and her Bike – how does it know where to go?  In the case of things that got lost when she was around, you could say her subconscious remembered what happened to them and thus helped her direct the bridge.  That explanation doesn’t work to explain how she used her bike to find Maggie the first time, though.

Another big one for me was the way the map of Manx’s inscape roads showed up on the cops’ iPads when they tried to locate Wayne’s cell phone while he was in Manx’s car.  Technology doesn’t work that way.  You can’t just magically have a map show on an iPad with labeled street names unless somebody has first created that map.  Not only that, but technology certainly can’t pinpoint somebody’s location on imaginary roads.  One explanation could be that Manx somehow caused them to see that image, just like the denizens of Christmasland made Vic think she was hearing phones ringing.  But what would that accomplish?  It would only lend credibility to an otherwise insane-sounding story if Vic wanted to try explaining it to anybody, and it would in fact help Vic herself feel confident that she wasn’t crazy so that she could make better decisions about how to handle the situation.

(show spoiler)

I did like the ending.  I had thought it was going in one direction, one that’s entirely too typical for horror stories in my experience, so I was happy when it ended up differently than I’d expected.  I’m giving this 3.5 stars on BookLikes and rounding up to 4 on Goodreads.