This is one of those books that works on all sorts of levels. As a straight-up reader wanting to be entertained, I got more than I expected in a novel that’s part horror, part fantasy, and quite unpredictable. The jacket copy suggest only the smallest part of the overall plot, and I appreciate when I’m not told everything ahead of time. What’s the point of committing to a 700-page beast if you already know everything? On the opposite side, the book’s content was represented properly in that copy, too (it’s one of the peeves I pet, when the hype takes you one way and the actual story goes on a less-interesting track. Happens all the time with movies, and sometimes in books).
Then there’s the novelist in me who looks at the artistic side – the language, the pacing, the structure – and I can’t find a single fault there, either. Joe Hill has a way of imparting plenty of detail without bogging down the narrative which writers of long fiction could all learn from. His characters live complex lives on the fringes of their societies, often just outside the sphere of light thrown from the lamp post of typical, and they’re almost always fighting not to drift away from that light. It’s a good place to be in the 21st century, where there isn’t really one standard definition for “normal.”
Finally, the thing that struck me most (as it usually does with Joe Hill) was the feeling I got reading this book, the way I fell into the page, got sucked into a good story, call it what you will. Like his father, Joe Hill has developed an accessible style of storytelling which challenges without irritating, informs without much hardcore exposition, and does what my favorite horror does best: it freaks me out without making me want to go do something else. Independent of category, genre, or type, that makes for a damn good yarn. If you’re of the SF/F/H persuasion in your reading, don’t pass this one up.
P.S. There’s an easter egg hidden at the end of the book. Read the novel, then keep reading through all the stuff after the last line (Acknowledgements, Typeface Notes). Finding a hidden surprise after finishing a great book simply made my day.