People had left remembrances at the diseased black cherry tree, its bark peeling away to show the fresh beneath. Merrin had been found like that, clothes peeled away to show the flesh beneath.
‘Horns’ is a unique, unconventional example of dark fantasy and horror – even when considering the genre usually thrives in such ideas – and one that is possible in the list of best reads this year. Intrigue hit me as soon as the marketing and promotion for the film exploded across media, but actually picking up the book took me this long. All I say to that is it won’t be happening again when it comes to Joe Hill.
Ignatius “Ig” Perrish wakes up after a night-out with horns protruding out of his head; they are a result of a damaged and grieved mind over the murder of his beloved, Merrin Williams. He is the suspect, but was never tried, and never cleared. Hated by everyone, as proven by the power of the horns, exposing the deepest secrets of anyone who falls under their spell, he is alone – that is, besides the devil himself.
Not for the faint-hearted, but definitely for those who love a dark and twisted story.
It reminded him of sperm swimming up the birth canal, of loosened erotic energy – a disconcerting line of thought. He whirled around and got away from there as far as he could without running.
Many reviewers compare Hill to the likes of his father, the great horror writer, Stephen King, but approaching any of his book with that mindset is an expectation that might not be met; no writer’s voice is exactly the same. There are similarities, such as if you count the vulgar and graphic style, and taking place in the same genre. Differences are vast, and although they do not mean Hill is the better writer, but rather is more on my wavelength.
There is no real build-up when it comes to diving into the plot, or for the creepy and uncomfortable scenes that follow on Ig’s quest for revenge, swaying within the boundaries of what is appropriate and what crosses the line into unnecessary slasher, something I thought would become the norm with a limited idea, but surprisingly it is the opposite.
With its distinctive voice, Hill crafts believable, fucked-up characters, tittering on the edge of far-fetched. Emotions play a huge part, dealt with over the course of the whole book, as it flits back-and-forth between present day, weeks before, and in childhood; for some characters it is sometimes shown as a quiet component, later brought into light as a form of arrogance and jealously; another – aka Ig – shows it in determination to find the one who murdered Merrin, disregarding consequence in his blinding rage; or, Terry, who is the gentler character compared to the surrounding, conflicted in a sense of choosing oneself over family.
Ig shut his eyes to concentrate on managing his pain. Then, for a while, it was quite still in the old foundry, where the man and the demon lay side by side – although which was which would perhaps have been a matter for theological debate.
Few flaws come to mind, such as the repetition of the phrase what are you?, finding the ending to be bittersweet, as it focuses on the sliver of hope after the chaos that preceded it, and misinterpretations made within relationships also not entirely cleared up for the audience.
In conclusion, ‘Horns’ is an unexpected, pleasant surprise, able to draw upon bereavement without wandering away from the dark components of fantasy, and keeping the idea of fear and intensity afloat without resorting to mindless gore. Which is what I struggled to find in horror/fantasy novels until now.