Jai Patel Reviews: Joe Hill Novels
It's been a long time since I created a new blog post, but here I am! Today, I'll be reviewing ALL FOUR (4) Joe Hill novels. That's right. Let's get on to it!
1. Heart-Shaped Box (2007)
Heart-Shaped Box (sometimes spelled without the hyphen) is Joe Hill's debut. In the introduction to the 10th Anniversary Edition of the novel, Joe explains that 20th Century Ghosts (his short story collection) was his first book that made it into the hands of a publisher.
He writes, "This was after I had written four novels I couldn't sell: Paper Angels, The Briars, The Fear Tree, and The Evil Kites of Dr. Lourdes."
Side note: Joe's anecdote should serve as an encouragement to all aspiring writers out there. Failing is part and parcel of the process. Just keep going!
So, how does Heart-Shaped Box fare? Here are the Pros and Cons:
➕ Tight, gripping story that is both fast-paced and fast (I won't spoil it for you). There aren't any unnecessary details that bog down the plot. You can finish this over the weekend if you wanted to.
➕ Interesting MC. Judas Coyne is a has-been rock star, and as a fan of heavy metal and rock, it was nice to see how he fit in alongside the universe of real rock stars/bands. There are glimpses of him at the peak of his career as well as some insight into the lives of his bandmates. I found this to be the most interesting part of the book.
➖ Joe Hill isn't really Joe Hill here, if that makes sense. He's still Stephen King Jr. This book doesn't fully showcase what he's able to pull off (this only happens in his coming novels). Heart-Shaped Box reads like a Stephen King book, more so because it is a straight-up horror with a little bit of action thrown in.
➖ This may not be a fair point, but I expected more dark fantasy elements in a Joe Hill novel. I started with Horns (his 2nd novel), followed by NOS4R2 (his 3rd), so I was expecting his signature blend of dark fantasy and thriller in this one, too.
➖ This is related to the point above. Joe Hill writes such amazing antagonists, but the antagonist here wasn't spectacular. Effective, yes (he did his job as a villain you love to hate) but there could've been more. A LOT more. It could be a personal preference: I'd rather see a flat and uninteresting protagonist than a flat and uninteresting antagonist *shrugs* I love my villains. Sue me.
2. Horns (2010)
Horns is where it starts to get really, really interesting. Before I go on, I'd like to say that Horns is one of the few books that I've re-read (and I rarely ever re-read books, it's just not a habit of mine as a reader).
It feels as if he's finally found not only his voice, but his confidence, as a novelist.
How's Horns, then?
➕ Interesting premise. I love novels that have a clear and impactful What if... and Horns delivers it in spades. Without spoiling anything, the MC Ig Perrish wakes up one day to find horns on his head. But these horns also give him special powers. Thus begins his journey as a freak, and what a journey it is.
➕ Likeable (and hateable) characters abound. All of the characters in the novel are well-written, and all of their desires are plain to see. There is nothing more annoying that characters who don't know what they want, but everyone in Horns has a clear motivation, and this drives the plot beautifully.
➕ I love, love, love the way the novel is structured, in terms of chapters and overall length. It's like watching a really great film and wanting more - that's the feeling you get after reading Horns.
➖ This novel moved me to tears. Even during my re-read. This should be a plus point, but I like to pretend to be a manly man who never cries. Also, there are no obvious cons for me to list here, so this will have to do!
3. NOS4R2 (2013)
Before I get to the review, let's get the title out of the way first. The novel is titled NOS4R2 (UK) and NOS4A2 (US), so it depends on which edition you have. Either way, this is pretty confusing and I thought my eyes were playing tricks on me until I did my research (5 seconds on google).
Also, if you haven't figured it out yet, the title is a play on "Nosferatu" aka Dracula.
OK, back to the book. And it is a THICK book. 689 pages all in all.
➕ This is Joe's best work. Hands down. It is an epic, sprawling dark fantasy tale that spans decades and takes place in several states across the US. I'm not a fan of long stories, but NOS4R2 is the kind of novel that makes me go, "Wow. I'd like to work on something like this someday." Yeah, I have big dreams.
➕ Delicious characters (and even more delicious villains!). It took about 2 years for Joe to finish writing the novel, but it feels like a lot more time went into this. The characters are well-written and interesting, plus, they're unique as hell. Not to mention, there's a lot of world-building here too, since the story unfolds over different parts of the US. I can't go deeper into the world-building aspect without spoiling the story, so...
➕ I want to allocate a pro to the bad guys in NOS4R2. I'm kind of lost for words here, but the antagonists in this novel are AWESOME AS F**K! As a reader/writer who loves the baddies, NOS4R2 is a case study on how to write villains that jump right off the page and grab you by the neck.
➖ This novel is long. Don't be fooled by the 689 pages: the book is typeset in a small font, so I'd say you should double that (689 x 2 = 1,378) to get an idea of just how long it is. NOS4R2 demands patience.
4. THE FIREMAN (2016)
So, The Fireman was the last Joe Hill novel I read. Just to recap, I began reading Hill in this order: (i) Horns, (ii) NOS4R2, (iii) Heart-Shaped Box, (iv) The Fireman.
The Fireman is different from Joe's other novels, seeing that it deals with a post-apocalyptic/dystopian theme that is reminiscent of his dad's masterpiece The Stand. So I was really excited to read it at last.
➕ Super fast read, despite the heavy 'end-of-the-world' theme. I don't like novels that make me check a word on the dictionary, or make me want to take frequent breaks because of the whole abstract-ness of it. That's why I never read literary fiction, they feel like syok sendiri books that the author wrote with the sole purpose of showing the world just how smart he/she is. Sorry for the rant.
➕ The devil is in the details. I can tell that Joe did a lot of research for this book, which is why it's so convincing. Without giving too much away, the world is burning (literally burning) when a deadly spore infects most of the human population. If you catch the spore, you'll ignite from the inside out and die a horrible death. Yeah.
➕ Plenty of literary references! This book is littered with mentions of novels and authors. Joe did this as a tribute to his own influences, and it adds an interesting layer to the story.
➖ One of the MCs is incredibly bland. If one of the protagonists is going to be this ordinary, I'm going to dock points.
➖ The antagonists aren't the best, but hey, I'm asking too much. They get the job done, but I would've wanted something a little more fantastical. Same goes for the setting/backdrop of the novel. It's entirely forgettable.
➖ Despite it being a super fast read, there are a few draggy bits in the novel. I didn't enjoy some of the interactions between the characters, because these characters weren't that interesting and/or important to begin with.
➖ Some parts of the plot are predictable. You can already guess what's going to happen, and I expected more twists and turns ala Horns or NOS4R2. Maybe not plot twists per se, but more action and higher stakes for the MCs.
Did you like this review? Would you want to read more reviews? Let me know @jaipatelauthor