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. (goodreads.com)
This came through on William Morrow’s ARC mailing list request email that I receive and I accidentally requested it. I say accidentally because I’d already previously decided to stop accepting review copies altogether but my brain vacated my body when this one came through and by the time I remembered I didn’t want any more review copies I’d already put my name in for it. Oh well.
Aside from that not only was I intrigued by the premise Hill is the offspring of one Stephen King. I just HAD to.
Coming in at nearly 700 pages I have to go back and look to see what actually happened in the first 50 that had me keep reading because, really, door stoppers scare me and in hindsight I blew through this bitch so . . . hold on . . .
Okay. It opens with this 99% corpse of a coma patient who’s this renowned kiddie killer waking up but maybe not and this nurse witnesses it and she’s a bit freaked out. And then you get your first peek at Vic and her bridge to places that find things except it makes her eyeball want to explode when she does it. And Bing Partridge with his yeasty dick that will forever be stuck with me because ew.
Hill is a scene setter and he knows just where to drop those little tidbits of crotch rot that’ll crawl your skin and embed you into the scene even more. He doesn’t rely on cheap jump scares but instead slowly builds the creep by leaving you little pieces of creep candy to string you along the pages. By page 50 Manx, Vic and Bing had already made appearances and there was no getting away from them at this point.
Like I said, NOS4A2 is nearly 700 pages (689 to be exact). I don’t normally read books this long because they usually can’t hold my patience for that amount of time. But this one? Despite the fact that is took me two weeks to read (which is long for me) it felt like no time at all. I kept coming to points in the story where if it weren’t for the bulk of pages remaining it rightly should have ended. I found myself asking how could this keep going? What is going to happen next? And Hill kept winging them at me. I was never let down in all of the plot, or left wanting for something more interesting. If it wasn’t centered around Christmasland and Manx and Bing it was about Vic and her downward spiral. Who doesn’t love a train wreck? I’m hard-pressed to find a lull here.
Creepy children. You really can’t go wrong with creepy children and NOS4A2 had them in spades without killing their buzz. While the plot centered around Manx and his kidnapping children and turning them into worm-like vampires the actual child presence in the story was barely there. Until Wayne came into the picture children were insinuated, hardly more than spooky voices backdropped by jingle bells on a crackly phone call. They were used sparingly and only when necessary. I got a peek of one when Vic first met Manx and we really get to see what he does to the children he takes. Effing weird. But it gets even better when the POV switches to Wayne. Without spoiling anything I’ll leave it at that.
Talk about ruining Christmas. What a great way to make Bing Crosby sound sinister. Aside from attaching the name Bing to one Mr. Partridge , who dissolved into a proper Lenny by the end of the book. He seemed far more put together if not a little immature when he first met Manx and just deteriorated into this feeb that could barely function without Manx. And Manx himself? Especially at the beginning you could almost empathize with his quest to help children. You really could. I know I started thinking maybe people had it wrong about him. Based on this prophetic graveyard of future ruined children, maybe they were better off with him. Yeah, no, not so much. But he really believed in himself and it was hard to not believe him. Until his exterior started to crack and his real personality started to slip. Then it was like, oh okay. He cray cray.
I wasn’t the biggest fan of Vic once she grew up. She was endearing as a child and blessedly angst-ridden as a teenager but she ended up rather insufferable as an adult. The thing is I think she was supposed to be a more unlikable protagonist and that was fine because there was so much more going on around her to root for. I could still root for her mission without giving her too much thought. I could support Wayne without having to jump on the Vic bandwagon. She grew up to be a rather rough person that was understandably self-centered in order to protect herself from her past but it came at the price of her present and that kind of sucked. But she ended up getting her shit together long enough to serve her purpose so I can’t really fault her for that.
Lou was kind of a non-character until the very end where he actually displayed his relevance to the story. He had a moment right in the middle of it but that gap from when he enters to when the story closes isn’t filled with much.
One could argue that Vic’s dad was a bit deus ex machina but it didn’t really bother me enough to get angry about it. Her dad merely supplied a product. Vic had to see it through to the end so it really wasn’t that bad.
It takes a lot to scare me so I would be stretching it if I said NOS4A2 scared me but it certainly had its moments. Hill is great at character and despite their flaws there’s something in each of them that’s at least a little bit relatable. They’re all still human and maybe that’s one of the more scary elements. In the end Manx was a father protecting his daughters and wanting what’s best for them. At a cost. It’s scary to relate him to something so simplistic and HUMAN because he’s so far from it but it can’t be helped. I actually found Bing to be the far more disturbing person than Manx because of what he did to the parents and how feeble yet astute he actually was. He teetered on this line of touched and tough and it was difficult to tell which he was. You could see pieces of his remorse poking through but it was more in line with disappointing his father figure than feeling bad about what he’d done. And he’d done incredibly adult things to people for the sake of Manx, things that an immature person with a stunted mental capacity probably wouldn’t be able to comprehend too well. Bing knew damn well what he was going. So which was it? It’s hard to know.
NOS4A2 is a breeze to read despite its length and it’ll give you a much different look at Christmas. I know I’ll be hearing those carols a hell of a lot differently from now on. Especially anything sung by a children’s choir. *shudder*