Tuesday 12 January 2010

Book Preview: Horns by Joe Hill

[Pre-order this book from Amazon
in the UK / in the US]


It's been nearly three years since Joe Hill made such a decisive debut to the sprawling horror genre with the cracking tale of a miserable old rocker drowning in his own bitterness whose past literally comes back to haunt him. At the time, it was difficult to discuss Heart-Shaped Box without reference to the somewhat mixed blessing of its author's paternal heritage, but that novel, not to mention the impressive collection of short stories that both preceded and suceeded it, proved strong enough to cement Hill's reputation as among the great new voices of speculative fiction. Any other considerations were rendered moot the moment Judas Coyne discovered exactly whose cursed suit he had ordered from eBay.

The Speculative Scotsman has had an eye out for Hill's sophomore effort since, and it was with no small measure of excitement that I discovered the very thing listed on Amazon a few months ago. As of this writing, Horns is due out in a few short weeks, and I'm not ashamed to say its devilish premise has one specific reader on tenterhooks already:

"Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache... and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

"Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned American musician, and the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more - he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

"Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone - raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances - with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty. Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It's time for a little revenge; it's time the devil had his due."

Hill has discussed the innumerable false-starts it took before Horns finally felt right in an extensive Q&A session conducted via Twitter. It's not terribly reassuring to know that one of my most anticipated reads of 2010 has suffered through several outright dead-ends and five rewrites thereafter, but going by the title of his introduction to PS Publishing's limited edition of the novel, "Fucking Up" seems to be among Hill's greatest concerns, and I'm cautiously optimistic that he's not readying fans for a disappointment.

The premise is certainly sound: distinct from the plot of Heart-Shaped Box although hardly worlds apart, Horns might not be the sort of perverse surprise its predecessor represented to many, but if it has half the verve of Hill's brilliant debut, half its twisted charisma, The Speculative Scotsman will surely be glued throughout. If the strikingly sustained quality of short fiction contained in 20th Century Ghosts is any indication, I for one won't be worrying the days until its near-as-damnit publication away.

On another, not unrelated note, the Q&A Hill published on his blog a day or so ago also revealed details of a gone but clearly not forgotten "epic fantasy novel" called The Fear Tree. Apparently the author has harvested some of its themes for Horns, and whether or not this age-old manuscript ever sees print - I can certainly respect a writer with the fortitude to recognise an imperfect creation for the stinker it is - fans of speculative fiction without a penchant for horror would be well advised to look forward to the potential second debut of Joe Hill in a genre more to their tastes.


by Joe Hill
2010, Gollancz: London

[Pre-order this book from Amazon
in the UK / in the US]

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