So, with a to-read list as long as mine, it’s no surprise that it took me a while to get round to reading Joe Hill‘s Horns. In addition, in a bumper reading work, I also got round to reading a couple more books, which I will mention later. On to Horns.
Horns was first published back in 2010, and is considered to be a dark fantasy, which is a fitting category. It follows the tale of Ig, who dwells in small-town New Hampshire. He is the runt of the Perrish litter. Ig’s father had a fine career in the music industry, rubbing shoulders with the stars, while his brother Terry has parlayed his heritage into an equally successful career.
Ig’s life takes a turn for the worse when his girlfriend Merrin is murdered and Ig is never cleared or convicted. As a result, he is a pariah in his own town, and a constant subject of ridicule and harassment.
We first meet Ig the morning after the anniversary of the Merrin’s death, waking to a blinding hangover and sporting a small pair of the titular horns. It soon becomes apparent that the horns are just for show, as everyone he comes into contact divulges their deepest secrets and desires.
One such encounter with his brother Terry reveals the identity of the killer, and Ig spends the rest of the novel figuring out how to deal with Merrin’s murderer.
The novel jumps back and forth between Ig’s teen years and the modern day, while switching point of view to other characters in the book. This doesn’t confuse, and helps fill in some of the plot gaps. There is a fine streak of dark humour throughout, which is always good in my book, and Ig has some nice iconoclastic rants as he develops as a demon. The main focus of the book is the contrast between the fledgling demon Ig and the soulless human killer. I thoroughly enjoyed Horns.
At this stage in his prolific writing career, Clayton Smith has mastered the persona of the cynical everyman thrown into impossible situations. Na Akua continues in that vain.
The story introduces us to Grayson Park, a Missouri high school teacher, who is visiting beautiful Maui on his honeymoon. This is no ordinary honeymoon though, as Grayson was left standing at the author by his bride-to-be, and decides to take the trip he paid for. Talk about impossible situations.
Once there, Grayson’s drunken exploits earn him the ire of the other hotel patrons, until a seemingly chance meeting with a surreally beautiful woman changes not just Grayson’s trip, but his his perception of what is real.
Smith has crafted a fun tale, laced through with his trademark cynicism, as his hero struggles to keep a grip on reality. Along for the ride is his faithful sidekick and Hawaiian native Polunu, who provides the heart of duo. The author captures the beauty of Maui, and introduces us to the mythology of the Islands.
Grayson stretches the boundaries of the anti-hero, making all the wrong choices, much to the constant amusement of Polunu, and survives more on dumb luck than any skill or mental acuity.
Na Akua is an amusing tale with more than enough adventure to keep you turning the page.
You might find Hurley’s novel filed under Horror or Mystery, but in truth it doesn’t fit neatly into either. This is no criticism. There is enough of a supernatural feel, and an element of mystery, to justify either classification, but this tale is really about the fragility of faith.
The story is told through the eyes of a boy, and revolves around a group of Catholics who undertook yearly pilgrimages to the Loney, a desolate region in the northwest of England under constant assault from the North Atlantic. The purpose of the annual pilgrimages is to the cure the son, Andrew, of one of the families. The trips stopped after an event at the Loney affected their Parish priest, Father Wilfred, who had always accompanied the pilgrims.
The story takes place after the death of said priest, and the mystery surrounding his death. The pilgrims return to the Loney, with Wilfred’s replacement, Bernard, along for the ride. A chance encounter on the road to the Loney begins a chain of events that rattles the faith of the party.
This questioning of the fragility of the pilgrims faith is really the story here. The difference between the two priests is key. Father Wilfred is a classic “fire and brimstone” priest while Bernard is younger and hipper, at odds with the needs of the pilgrims.
This is a beautifully written story, and Hurley has given the Loney a malevolent heart that suggests the area itself is the real horror of the story. Be warned though, while this is engaging throughout, the tale is a slow burner, and may not appeal to those who like traditional scary stories.