‘NOS 4R2’ geddit, Nosferatu…but on a car registration plate. Don’t worry though, this book isn’t written in car regs nor text speak. It’s just a little play on words to lure you into a false sense of security before the real show begins. A common theme in Joe Hill’s third novel.
What it actually refers to is a vanity plate of a 1938 Rolls Royce driven by child kidnapper who lures unsuspecting kids to ‘Christmasland’, where they are never seen again. Think ‘Chitty Chitty Bang Bang’ but much darker, if that’s possible. The kidnapper is foiled by a young girl, Victoria, who can find anything she needs to when on her bike but this power comes at a great cost.
‘NOS 4R2’ flits between our hero, Victoria, and the man who tried to take her to Christmasland sixteen years ago and is out for revenge. The chapters flow quickly with no time to get bored of one character before the action switches to the other. It will take some time to get used to and Victoria does change quite drastically as a character as she gets older so if you are struggling with early chapters, do try and stick with it.
A seasoned comic book author, Hill shows off his geek credentials proudly with ‘Serenity’, ‘Game Of Thrones’ and both the DC and Marvel universes referenced throughout without feeling too crowbarred in.
When writing villains, the more justified they are in their actions the better they come across and Hill has most definitely paid heed to this rule. Owner of ‘NOS 4R2’, Charlie Manx believes that he saving the children he spirits away from abusive mothers who do not meet his impossibly high standards. It would be quite easy to liken Manx to one his father’s greatest villains, such as Randell Flagg or Pennywise, but Hill has created someone unique altogether that will stay with you long after the final page.
Through currently reading Hill’s ‘Locke And Key’ comicbook series, I’m well aware of his talent for creating flawed heroes that you can still root for. I really thought I was going to dislike Victoria McQueen, with all of her baggage and issues, but underneath that she is a fantastic character, capable of loving and being loved. Her misshapen and slightly dysfunctional family are also well-written without becoming twee or constantly in distress and in need of rescue.
As good as it is, there are still some faults. No real explanation is given for the ‘Inscape’ of Christmasland and the ‘Shorter Way’ bridge used by Victoria. They happen because they just do which really isn’t good enough.
The title itself is a tricky one, at first it seems like Hill asleep while texting and then there’s connection to the vampire character but, in the end, it’s just vanity on the part of the lead villain and feels like a triple bluff designed to fool and irritate the reader.
Despite these misgivings, ‘NOS 4R2’ is a daunting read but most definitely worth the undertaking. There is so much depth to both the plot and even the most minor of characters that this book is one of my favourite reads of 2013 so far.
(pub: Gollancz. 689 page hardback. Price: £18.99 (UK only). ISBN: 978-0-575-13067-8)
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