The follow-up to Heart-Shaped Box, Horns is in many ways another of Hill’s takes on supernatural revenge. This time, however, you’re placed in vengeance’s corner rather than opposing it. We meet up with Ignatius “Ig” Perrish on the morning that he wakes up to discover that he has grown a pair of horns. Sadly, this is just another layer on the pile of not-that-great things that have begun to slowly crush him. It’s been almost a year since the love of his life, Merrin Williams, was violently murdered, leading to him being tried, and ultimately cleared due to suspicious circumstances. Still, everyone believes he did it, so he’s pretty much a prisoner anyway, just without the bars.
And now he has horns. Horns that have the disconcerting effect of encouraging anyone who sees them to reveal the darkest parts of themselves to Ig. He learns a lot more about his friends and family than he may have ever wanted to know…but he also learns what exactly happened to Merrin. And thus kicks in the vengeance.
Well, not exactly. Hill doesn’t tell a traditionally linear story, choosing instead to shift readers backward and forward through the layers of the tale, giving you just enough to keep you slightly in the know, but never quite ahead of the story. Ironically, for a story about a man slowly turning into a demon, written by the son of Stephen King, I’d actually peg this as less of a horror story and more of a…supernatural coming-of-age/suspense thriller. With horns. And one of the almighty worst puns pertaining to an indigo-colored article of women’s clothing that I think I have ever read. I promise you, denizens, it is groan-worthy.
Horrifying punnage aside, Hill once again proves that he is a skilled storyteller of his own making, obviously inspired and encouraged by his lineage but quite capable of standing on his own literary merits. He’s also able to create some incredibly bleak and demented characters. And they’re purely human, which makes them that much more upsetting, I think.
Final Verdict: I might actually want to add this one to my collection. I loved the layering of the story, the way it shifted so effortlessly along the plot’s timeline, never missing a beat, never relenting. I also loved the characters (or loved to loathe the characters); Hill’s ability to craft humanity in its myriad forms through nothing more than words is remarkable. This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, even at its darkest moments, and simply makes me that much more of a fan of Joe Hill.