I’ve decided that I was going to post this review of Joe Hill’s (amazing!) novel NOS42 both here, and on my Pickle Spectrum blog. This poor blog has been neglected, and needs to see some reviews posted. I'll begin again, and keep 'em coming!
What can be said about NOS4A2? I mean, the title alone is great. It’s a freaking license plate that reads Nosferatu! I am quite partial to the film Nosferatu—though this novel isn’t based on it, the main antagonist is somewhat vampiric—and find Nosferatu to be one of my favorite types of vampires.
(You see, when I was younger, I used to love making characters for the role playing game Vampire: The Masquerade. Nosferatu was a kind of species of vampire modeled after Count Orloff in the silent film.)
Here’s a rundown on what happens, I’ll be spoiler-light here:
The novel hinges on two people, an antagonist named Charles Manx, and a protagonist named Victoria McQueen. These characters have special abilities that allow them to use their minds to create links to special places Manx calls inscapes.
When we meet Manx in the opening of the novel, he is all but dead in a prison hospital in Colorado. This is because he is a convicted child-killer and kidnapper. He doesn’t remain in this state very long.
We meet Victoria McQueen at a young age, and touch on her at different points throughout her life. Her abilities allow her to find lost objects, or meet people—as long as they aren’t on the move. She does so by way of (at first) her Raleigh Tuff Rider bicycle.
(This bicycle is called a”knife” by another character. I like to believe this is a reference to Philip Pullman’s subtle knife in the novel that bears that title.)
Victoria rides her bike, lost object in mind, and recreates a bridge she has seen—the Shorter Way Bridge—from wherever she happens to be, to wherever said item is. No matter if it’s across the country, or down the block.
Manx has his own “knife” in the form of a 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith. This car (bearing the NOS4A2 license plate) allows him to take abducted children to a place of his own creation: Christmasland. Though this may sound like a cheerful place, it really isn’t.
Manx kidnaps children who he believes will suffer at the hands of their parents. With the help a sidekick (a character we meet named Bing Partridge who becomes known as The Gasmask Man) Manx abducts children from bad parents, and the parents are…well…dealt with.
On the road to Christmasland, through Manx’s inscape, the children are drained of everything about them that’s human, and Manx’s fragile hold on life—he’s very old, you see—is restored to him.
At one point in her teenage life Victoria, after an argument with her mother, rides her bicycle in search of trouble. When the Shorter Way Bridge appears, she crosses it and lands (literally) in Manx’s back yard.
After a run-in with Manx—that burns down his “Sleigh House”—and a barely human kidnapped child, Victoria is rescued by a man on a motorcycle, a man name Lou Carmody. They travel to a store to inform the police of Manx’s kidnapping of the child, only to have Manx arrive.
With his wicked Wraith—his “knife” and its abilities—he kills those who confront him. Police arrive, and haul him to prison. When his Wraith it taken away and scrapped, Manx enters a coma and ends up in the Colorado prison hospital. Ultimately he “dies”.
Victoria, in the meantime, pushes all her memories—even those of her abilities—back into her mind. She has a child with Lou, a son named Wayne. She tries to live her life, ignorant of what she used to be able to do.
That is until she begins receiving calls from the children inhabiting Christmasland. They miss their “father” Manx, and blame Victoria for his disappearance.
Manx is revived when his Wraith is rebuilt by an unknowing man. He then decides to get his revenge on Victoria McQueen by kidnapping her son Wayne and taking him to Christmasland. The rest of the novel is a struggle for Victoria to find her son, and evade police as well.
Part of what I dislike about reviewing is deciding when I have shared enough. What I have shared here takes up a bulk of the first two-and-a-half (or so) quarters of the novel. It’s all great exposition, and shows the reader how flawed (in a good way) these characters are.
Hill writes really interesting characters.
Victoria is an unlikely heroine, not just because of her “mental” setbacks. She's a tattooed motorcycle riding mother who writes children's books!
Manx is a delightfully giddy type of villain, and he’s a little easy to sympathize with—not wanting to see children suffer. It’s odd to say that, really.
Bing is child-like in his own right. He’s a bit mentally stunted, but able to live on his own.
Lou is a fat guy, a real geek, and easily one of my favorite characters. Finally, I am represented in a novel, and even slightly heroic!
The stories of these characters are riveting, really. And they weave together really well, culminating in a really interesting way. Even if it is a bit sad. (Again, no spoilers here.) The pacing of the novel is great as well. I didn’t get bored at all, and the near 700 pages seemed like half that!
What I loved is the geekery included throughout. References to comic book characters (Victoria’s son is Bruce Wayne Carmody, though he goes by Wayne), TV shows (like Firefly!), movies (like Star Wars)and even a nod to Cloud Atlas (Frobisher’s sextet is mentioned) make this a geeks paradise in novel form!
Also, anyone who name drops my hometown (Plattsburgh, New York) in a novel gets big props. We’re really underrepresented in modern works (though Vonnegut did mention the Ausable Chasm in one of his, it’s in Ausable…but I’ll take it!)
I really really really enjoyed this and think you will, too!