So far on bookwanderer, writing my reviews has been pretty easy: I’ve either liked something and given it an over-the-top review (Fingersmith) or I’ve given it a tongue-lashing (The Female of the Species). For Horns, by Joe Hill, I’ve been thinking and mulling it over and I’m still stuck somewhere in the middle.
The premise is awesomesauce: Ig Perrish wakes up with a headache, no memory of the previous night, and two horns jutting from his temples. He soon realizes that the horns exert a strange power over the people he meets. Not only do they mess with people’s memories, erasing meetings with Ig from their minds, but the horns also encourage people to tell Ig their darkest impulses and desires. This causes some truly WTF-level moments, ranging from Ig hearing the worst thoughts of the town priest and nun to discovering what his own parents truly think of him. Because Ig’s girlfriend Merrin was raped and killed a year ago and the killer never caught, Ig, though cleared, is still thought of as the prime suspect by literally everyone.
Eventually, using the power of the horns, Ig stumbles across the real murderer. While attempting to get revenge, Ig begins to lose his grip on reality and his appearance changes more and more until finally, he’s more devil than man. Though Ig looks like a monster, you’re always aware that the real monster is the Merrin’s very human murderer. (Juxtaposition like that is always fun.) And then…the end. Or really, more like, the end…? because it’s kind of vague and spiritual and I probably need someone smarter than I am to explain it to me.
I guess my feelings about Horns are best summed up as: great premise, flawed execution. Having crazy-ass horns on your head that make people tell you the TRUTH, however cruel or vile, because you represent some outer or inner demon, is straight-up cool, and I wish I’d thought of it.
But I would have liked more clarity in how and why this transformation happened to Ig; it’s kind of hand-waved away by some sacrilegious acts and a bizarre shared vision Ig and Merrin had as young’ins. Additionally, near the end, I started wondering how this was going to work out well for Ig…and realized it just couldn’t. There was no way that Ig could win and be happy, either as a human or a devil. (I’m kind of simplistic in that I like the protagonists in what I read to win.) The thing is, it’s hard to continue reading about and cheering for someone you KNOW can, at best, enact revenge…but still not “win.” There’s even a line in the book to that effect, something Ig reads in one of Merrin’s books, which makes me think Hill knew and wanted us to be uncomfortable reading about someone struggling to do the right thing and/or be happy.
Horns does bring up some interesting questions about the natures of God, Satan, and man–and reminds me quite a bit of Good Omens in that respect–but seems to run out of steam in the final third or so. I would give the first half four stars and the second half three stars, so let’s go with the average: three and a half stars. I wanted to like it more than I did.
Bookwanderer Rating: Three and a half stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: I’ll let a master take this one on: “If the devil does not exist, and man has therefore created him, he has created him in his own image and likeness.” –Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Graeme’s Fantasy Book Review