• Horns by Joe Hill
• Paperback: 416 p
• Publisher: HarperCollins, 2011
• ISBN: 0061147966
• Genre: Horror; Fantasy; Thriller
• Recommended for: Anyone who enjoys horror and the best in characterization.
Quick Review: Despite the disappointing ending, I definitely recommend this book to fans of horror and characterization in general. It’s really not particularly scary, but readers may be horrified by the revelations of some of the characters. Also, the characterization in the novel is top-notch.

How I Got HereI had read Heart-Shaped Box by Joe Hill in the past and enjoyed it. Hill is also my favorite author on Twitter (@joe_hill). So, I am already a fan of the author and what really pushed me to read this novel was a recommendation by Amy at Lucy’s Football. Finally, this book satisfies a task for the  Fall Reading Challenge, as well as the Readers Imbibing Peril (R.I.P.) challenge. I read this book during my participation in Dewey’s 24 hour Read-a-Thon.

The Book: Goodreads’ synopsis:

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

At first Ig thought the horns were a hallucination, the product of a mind damaged by rage and grief. He had spent the last year in a lonely, private purgatory, following the death of his beloved, Merrin Williams, who was raped and murdered under inexplicable circumstances. A mental breakdown would have been the most natural thing in the world. But there was nothing natural about the horns, which were all too real.

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

But Merrin’s death damned all that. The only suspect in the crime, Ig was never charged or tried. And he was never cleared. In the court of public opinion in Gideon, New Hampshire, Ig is and always will be guilty because his rich and connected parents pulled strings to make the investigation go away. Nothing Ig can do, nothing he can say, matters. Everyone, it seems, including God, has abandoned him. Everyone, that is, but the devil inside. . . .

Now Ig is possessed of a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look—a macabre talent he intends to use to find the monster 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. . .

My Analysis and Critique:

Ignatius Martin Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke the next morning with a headache, put his hands to his temples, and felt something unfamiliar, a pair of knobby protuberances.

Once I read these opening lines, I was hooked. The protagonist, Ig, wakes up with horns and is horrified to find that every person that he interacts with is compelled to tell their worst, darkest secrets to him, and each desires his permission to commit acts of varying degrees of evil. Very intriguing opening with many questions to be answered: What did Ig do to get his horns? Why do people react in such a way around him? Who killed his girlfriend (whom he immediately mentions as brutally raped and murdered a year prior to the opening)? Is Ig the devil, and if so, will he actually become as evil as everyone thinks he is? What further powers will be gained through the horns themselves? So many possibilities here!

While most of these questions get answered in some way, I don’t think Hill reached his potential with Horns. Such a great premise, but it fell flat for me at the end. I was hoping for some major plot development and twists related to new-found powers gained through the horns, but it didn’t really happen. I was frustrated that, though the horns did give him powers of manipulation with people, they still weren’t much more than a facial characteristic and a device for getting other characters to tell him some very awful truths. Disappointing. About three quarters of the way through the novel, I realized that if this novel had more irony, it would be truly excellent. The ending didn’t satisfy; it felt anti-climactic. Bummer.

However, I would still highly recommend this novel. Hill seems to have mastered the art of characterization, and, for me, that’s the most important element in a story. All of his characters feel very real, which might be due to the flashback technique he utilizes in a similar fashion to his father’s use in IT. The chapters showing the protagonist as a teen were my favorites. In fact, I actually lost myself in them (I truly felt that I was watching the scenes unfold in person), which I haven’t done with a book in a long time. The opening chapters of the novel are also pretty terrific and horrifying as Ig hears the most awful, cringe-worthy confessions from friends, family, and town members (the worst comes from his grandmother).

Overall, despite the disappointing ending (I’m a harsh critic when the set-up is so perfect and fails to deliver at the end), I definitely recommend this book to fans of horror and characterization in general. It’s really not particularly scary, but readers may be horrified by the revelations of some of the characters. The characterization in the novel is top-notch (Hill has now entered my Top 5 of the best character writers, a major feat) and the opening is excellent. I think Hill is probably continuing to hone and improve his craft (this novel was definitely stronger than Heart-Shaped Box), and I will continue to read his novels and stories and look forward to whatever he writes next.


  1. Goodreads reviews