Is it safe to say that Joe Hill does have rightful claim to be the next American Master of Horror? I say yes, and not for the very obvious reason of parentage. Hill’s work does contain all the creepies and crawlies and things that go bump in the night, but what I’ve always loved about his work is the humanity in them. The monsters were once (or are) human, the reasons that they bump in the night are very human in origin, and the heroes aren’t too perfect either…but they’ll fight for the good in the world. His latest, NOS4A2 (let’s take a moment to appreciate that pun), is a great addition to his growing canon. (Well, what I’ve read of it. I am planning on picking up Locke & Key trades in the near future.) Much like his debut novel, the biggest draw to NOS4A2 is the villain. The title is pretty much all you need to know about Charles Manx—he is a horrible bastard to flaunt what he is on the flashiest car imaginable. A Rolls-Royce Wraith, no less. It’s so over-the-top and audacious of him that it should come off as cheesy and narmy. But it doesn’t. (I also like that Manx isn't an atypical vampire, in a manner. More on that in a bit.)And then there’s the underlying holiday motif of the book. If you think that Tim Burton is the only person who could make Christmas terrifying, you are so wrong. Christmasland, according to the Word of God, is the more horrifying version of Pleasure Island from Pinocchio. With sadistic vampiric children with shark’s teeth who want to play with you. Gaaaah. (And before anyone asks, are the holiday trappings twisted versions of themselves, ala Nightmare? No. That’s what makes it creepier.) We don’t even spend a lot of time in Christmasland proper—it only shows up in the last third of the book, but the build-up to it makes the pay-off worth it. I also need to give mad props to Gabriel Rodriguez, who provided the illustrations in the book. The section heading illustrations were okay (I particularly like the gun-shaped paperweight inscribed “Property of A. Chekov”), but the in-text illustrations, like the Innerscape of the United States and drawings of Christmasland by Manx’s children were the perfect touch of unsettling. (And on the subject of the Innerscape map, it’s worth taking a moment to look at it and make note of all the references Hill throws in. There’s some pretty amusing ones.)But while Charlie Manx and his children are the main antagonistic force and therefore, the biggest draw for the book, it’s not a good horror story without its heroes. And the great thing about Vic McQueen is that even though she’s extremely flawed, even though she denies the call to action in her later years, and even though the entire reason she’s involved with Manx in the first place is for a stupid teenage decision, Vic is driven to set things right and to save her son. I actually like the fact that the reason Vic comes to Manx’s attention is that she sets out looking for him in a bad moment, and that her interference comes to bite her back with extreme vengeance years later. When Manx is describing his reasons for “saving” “unhappy” children, my brain just went “Oh shit.” Especially when Vic is going through therapy and rehab. I think there are going to be people who will read this and think that Vic is unlikable, and how are we supposed to root for her when her attitude’s that horrible. But that’s what I do like about her character—that she’s not perfect, and that her life is messed up. And that even though Vic wants to do right by Wayne, she’s not going apologize or ignore the fact that she is messed up. I really like Vic’s relationships with Wayne and Lou. I really love Vic and Lou’s relationship—particularly the fact that they both realize that they weren’t meant to be always together, but they’re both willing to put their lives on the line for each other. (I like to think that this is their song.) I also really like Lou—he’s a sweet nerd who knows he got too lucky and thinks that he doesn’t deserve Vic, but he’s willing to follow her into Christmasland and save Wayne. Speaking of Wayne, I liked that we get to follow his journey to Christmasland and experience that change of mind that comes over him in the Wraith. I like that he’s able to delay his transformation, and even though Manx eventually gets the better of him, Wayne still manages to be resourceful. Heck, I even love the inner monologues Wayne has towards the end of the book—it really feels like he could become Manx’s heir, if not for the destruction of the soul jar ornaments.Speaking of the end, the one thing that jarred me out of the book was the destruction of said soul ornaments and the releasing of all the children trapped in Christmasland…who are still alive and the same age when they disappeared. So much of the book is teetering on the edge of reality, with Vic on the run from the authorities (because they think she snapped and killed Wayne), the ending seems a little…off? I just want to know how Tabitha Hunter’s going to explain that “Oh that girl who disappeared twenty years ago is not only alive…but she’s still twelve years old.” It’s a minor detail, but it still bugs me.As for the other characters who pop in and out: I really love Maggie, especially how she’s the Cool Big Sis for Vic in the beginning so when you find out what happens to her in the intervening years, it’s all the more heart-breaking. And I do like Tabitha—it seems easy to just call her Vic’s foil, but they do have a lot of the same goals, they just see themselves on opposing sides. Bing is…well. Bing is one of those kids who didn’t go to Christmasland…but he still wants the magic and joy of being there. *shudders*I also love the idea of Innerscapes that gets discussed within the book, and how certain objects take on aspects for their owners. I liked that there are consequences to using these objects far too often, and that while all of the respective powers are somewhat similar—all based on finding—there are different rules for Manx, Vic and Maggie.As I said at the beginning of the review, Joe Hill is definitely one of the names to know in recent horror novels. I’ve loved every one of his novels (and 20th Century Ghosts, which I need to review one day) and NOS4A2 is no exception. Absolutely check this one out.