Recommended Reading: ‘Horns’ by Joe Hill

I’ve decided to begin a series of blog posts discussing books that I’ve found particularly powerful. These are not just titles I liked — I have hundreds of those. The books I’ll discuss here are those that I didn’t want to end, the ones with characters for whom I felt genuine emotion. First up is one I just finished a few weeks ago — Horns by Joe Hill.

Horns follows a few days in the life of one Ignatius William Perrish (what could possibly go wrong with a name like that?), who awakes one morning to find devil’s horns growing out of his forehead. The obvious fashion problems aside, the horns cause him another problem: They cause people he meets to speak aloud their deepest, darkest thoughts. Unfortunately for Ig, many of those dark thoughts are about him. You see, the only woman he has ever loved was raped and murdered in the woods a year before; while Ig wasn’t charged with the crime for lack of evidence, most people have absolutely no doubt that he did it.

The truth is that Ig is innocent. Because of his new-found ability to get people to ‘fess up, he discovers the identity of the killer, and the news devastates him. We see Ig slowly transform from wronged grieving boyfriend to a demon bent on getting revenge. In between, in a series of flashbacks, we learn the full story about Ig, his late girlfriend Merrin, their friend Lee, and the secrets they all kept from each other. The news Merrin kept from Ig is particularly shattering; the way she chose to handle it leads to the brutal circumstances of her death.

I absolutely love the characters in this novel. Merrin is an absolute sweetheart, the kind of girl any guy with an appreciation for brains and beauty would fall for. Lee is horrifying; if I thought anyone would understand, I’d dress up as Lee for Halloween. Ig’s brother Terry is intriguing — a talented musician, loyal to his brother and his family, but cowardly when character counted most. And then there’s Ig, who is both hero and villain, horribly wronged and obsessed with exacting heartless revenge. Even at his darkest moments, it’s hard to not sympathize with Ig. Hard as it must be to deal with the awful way he lost someone he loved, the pain of being wrongly convicted of the crime in the minds of so many must be exponentially worse.

Two weeks later, I still think about these characters and the places in the book. I highly recommend this title. Go to your favorite bookstore or library and check it out. Visit the author’s Web site to learn more about him and his work. I’m looking forward to reading more of it.

I learned of this book from a review in the late, lamented Realms of Fantasy magazine, which has just announced that it is folding again, probably for good this time. It’s sad but not wholly unexpected. I’ll miss the site of a new issue showing up in my mail and the thrill of discovering all those great new writers and stories. I hope another publication, either print or online, will step up to take its place.

I’m currently reading another novel that I learned about in Realms, Bloodroot by Amy Greene. If this one hits me the same way, look for a blog post about it in a few weeks.

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