Have you ever read a book and after the first 15 pages say to yourself, "Well, he's pretty much done everything I can think you can do with this idea. What's he gonna do now?" and then you read and read and you're not sure if anything else is really going on but you're enjoying anyway?
That's Horns in a nutshell. For me, anyway.
I really enjoyed Joe Hill's first novel, a twisted slice of New England horror called Heart-Shaped Box (reviewed here, as a matter of fact) that may have tread the familiar territory of his famous father's past, but did so in a fresh and current voice that managed to trump Dad's last of couple of books. So when Horns was released in a flurry of publicity (the movie rights sold for a bundle before the book was finished, let alone released) I dove in, excited by the simple high concept: one morning after a vicious drunk Ig Perrish wakes up to find he has grown a pair of horns on his head.
So right there I'm in. When Ig talks to people, they're compelled to tell him their darkest thoughts and desires, desires he finds he's able to "push" just a tiny bit, with a expectant thrumming pleasure that travels up and down his horns. To say more spoils the book - as I said, within the first 20-30 pages you know the basic setup, the conflict, and even the adversary. The rest of Horns deals with Ig's childhood, his relationship with Merrin, brutally murdered the year before the horns appear, and how Ig slowly starts to change as he deals with the knowledge of how Merrin died, by whose hands, and what he's going to do about it.
There's some great ideas - Ig is our hero, but how do you root for someone who's slowly turning into the Devil? - and the nature of evil, of the concept of God, and our quests to be good, even when we know we won't. Things tend to wander a bit, and I think a little tightening would have helped Horns be a bullet instead of some fine quality buckshot, but it's a solid second effort, and proof that Joe Hill's got a lot of skill around words.
Here's to the next one: may it burrow under our skin sooner rather than later.