Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

Title: Horns
Author: Joe Hill
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Harper Collins, 2011

I’d been meaning to read some of Joe Hill’s work for a while, and just hadn’t got around to it yet. Then they announced that Horns was going to become a movie, and so of course I had to read it. Can’t commit heresy by seeing something without reading the book first, right? (I still haven’t seen it, but they’ve got my name on the list at the library for when it comes in.) In case you don’t know, Mr. Hill is the son of horror fiction’s crown prince, Stephen King, and has taken to his father’s craft with a vengeance. I’m not kidding when I say that every single book he’s produced has been recommended to me by one person or another, usually multiple times. I’ve mentioned before that in my limited reading of King I tend to not be particularly fond of the protagonist for one reason or another (there are exceptions, of course.) That’s not a problem Hill has, at least not here. The project here is ambitious–I half-imagine someone bet Hill that he couldn’t write a story with the devil (or more accurately, a devil) as the protagonist and make him sympathetic. Well, if that’s the case, Hill won the bet.

Until a year ago, Ignatius “Ig” Perrish was a saint. No, that’s not quite right–saints don’t typically smoke, drink, or spend the night with a girl they’ve not yet married (even if there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that such an event is in their future.) Ig does all of these things on a regular basis. So, a sinner, but a good-natured one. All that changed the night his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, was raped and murdered in the woods. Ig was the only real suspect, as she had just broken up with him in a very public drunken shouting match at a local restaurant, but the case went cold for lack of evidence. Ig never got his day in court, and so never had a chance to prove that he didn’t do it. Even if he had, it may not have convinced anyone. Ig spent the next year a bitter, drunken wreck of a man. On the one-year anniversary of the murder, he spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. The next morning, he woke with horns growing from his temples–not that anyone else can seem to see, but they’re there. Also, people seem to be confessing their deepest, darkest desires to him, almost seeking permission to fulfill them. Skin contact reveals their most hidden secret sins they’ve committed in the past. Ig has no idea where this diabolical power has come from, but he knows what he’s going to do with it: find whoever killed the woman he loves, and give them Hell….

Like I said, a very ambitious book. The premise alone was intriguing, but the execution was simply masterful. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone with a fondness for the horror genre, or that likes a story that’s just a little bit off the wall. I will warn you though, the book can be incredibly disturbing at times. There’s a whole section of the book told from the perspective of the killer, including the night of the rape and murder of Merrin Williams. The night I hit that section I stayed up reading long past when I had planned to stop, simply so that I didn’t have to go to bed still in his head and could reach the (comparatively) wholesome POV of Ig once again before drifting off to sleep. I didn’t want SPOILER OMITTED spending the night in my subconscious. The whole story is told somewhat out of order, starting the morning Ig wakes up with horns and then spending large chunks of time filling in the background through flashbacks as different revelations are made and need context or someone inadvisedly touches Ig and reveals their darkest secrets.

There are all sorts of issues with the book theologically-speaking, of course, but that’s not the point of the book and so I really won’t get into that here. Christianity, the church, and the Judeo-Christian God don’t come off well in the book, but that’s to be expected from a character who feels so betrayed and embittered towards Heaven. And really, given the treatment Hill’s father gives similar themes on a repeated basis, are you really all that surprised? I more or less expected something along those lines.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity throughout. Some gruesome and disturbing violence, including a rape and subsequent murder. Some explicit sexual content, including but not limited to the aforementioned rape (though this scene is played for horror, not titillation). The main character is becoming something along the lines of the traditional Judeo-Christian devil, including an array of diabolical powers. I think that probably counts as occult content.

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