As a child, Vic discovers her bicycle can open a portal leading her to lost objects. One day Vic crosses her portal and meets a kindly librarian able to read the future in scrabble tiles. The librarian informs Vic that she has the power to find Charles Manx, a child abductor who takes children to an alternate world called “Christmasland”. The librarian warns Vic that she should not attempt to find Manx until she is older, but Vic inevitably finds herself at his house, where there are Christmas ornaments dangling from the trees in his yard (an ornament for every child he’s taken), and a little boy trapped in the backseat of his car. In Vic’s effort to save the little boy, she is nearly trapped and killed. She barely manages to escape with her life. Years later, Vic is all grown up with a family of her own. She is trying to put Charles Manx, and her knowledge of portals to other worlds behind her, until he comes for her son. Vic must save her son before he crosses over and becomes a permanent resident of Christmasland.
Sound creepy, and a little campy? It is both. Which I suspect, but cannot confirm, is traditional in Christmas-themed horror stories. Horror is not my genre, and I feel a little out of my depth here. So I’m going to make this review short.
For me, this book was never outright scary. It was dark, unsettling, and sinister. Although the Christmas theme was ever so slightly campy, it wasn’t overdone. In the hands of another author, I don’t think this story would have worked. Joe Hill has a talent for suspending reader’s disbelief. He’s good at acknowledging the unbelievability of it all, in a way that makes the subject matter somehow more believable:
“She had daydreamed a hole in the world and ridden her bike through it, and it was crazy”.
Above all, Joe Hill is a master of compelling storytelling. On my mom’s recommendation, I previously read his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. In both cases – the short story collection, and this novel – the writing was gripping. Hill knows how to instantly hook his readers. I’m not certain whether or not I enjoyed N0S4A2, but it did rouse my curiosity on page one, and propelled me forward at a surprisingly fast clip to the very last page.
Given that the title is a reference to the classic film, Nosferatu, I was expecting a bit more traditional vampire story. If you’re looking for traditional vampire, this is not the book for you. However, if you like creative takes on classic themes, and you enjoy books that are unsettling, you probably want to add this one to your summer reading list. Be sure to read the acknowledgements at the end. They are delightful; with a touching mention of his dad (who happens to be Stephen King).