Horns is a very unusual book, and one that seems to be gaining popularity. It was adapted into a film starring Daniel Radcliffe, which was released in 2014. Strange as it seems, I have never watched the film despite wanting to. This is a good thing for my review however, since it means that my opinion has not been influenced by the adaptation. Horns follows Ignatius “Ig” Perrish, who is the prime suspect in the rape and murder of his girlfriend Merrin despite repeatedly professing his innocence. Only his childhood friend Lee believes him. The one day he wakes up with horns growing out of his head, and they make people around confess their deepest, darkest desires to him.
The one thing I like about the book is that Ig is such a strong character. He is a cynical anti-hero type character. The flashbacks show that this is part of his personality, but his snarky persona is shown best in the present following Merrin’s death. When he learns how to use the horn to manipulate people he quickly develops a mischievous side, and takes great delight in humiliating people. The strange part is the fact that Hill shows how fitting he is for the horns while still retaining his sympathy as a character. What I like is the ambiguity surrounding the character. At the beginning I found myself genuinely wondering if he was guilty or not, although as the plot progressed I quickly became convinced of his innocence.
The other characters aren’t really anything to shake a stick at, with the exception of Merrin, and Lee. Merrin is shown to be an interesting character in the flashbacks. She initially appears to be little more than Ig’s dead girlfriend even after she is given more characterisation in the flashbacks. Yet, later revelations show that she is flawed and has her own issues. These really help her graduate into something more than just Ig’s lost love.
Lee is interesting. I can’t really discuss his character development without going into spoiler territory so I’ll just say it: he is the one who killed Merrin. At first he seems like a generic friend character with a few flaws, but Ig eventually learns Lee killed Merrin. Flashbacks reveal Lee impaled his head on the spike of a pitchfork as a child, with the experience and resulting brain damage causing changes to his personality and having psychopathic thoughts. It is revealed that he had delusions that Merrin was into him, eventually leading him to rape and murder her after he realises she never wanted a relationship with him. Lee is interesting because of how well he hid his psychopathy, when in reality he is a a villain who looks like he could have walked straight out of a Stephen King book. While at times I wonder if he is a bit extreme, similar to many Stephen King villains, I enjoyed his flashback segments regardless.
There isn’t a lot that I can say against this novel. I must admit the abundance of Christian imagery was a bit off putting at times, even though Ig clearly isn’t a huge believer in God’s mercy any more and the story is more about the theme of the devil as an anti hero rather than teaching any kind of Christian morals. To me Christianity is a boring religion, if only because it’s the one I’ve had the most exposure to throughout my lifetime. Hence whenever I read or watch anything with Christian and biblical themes there is always a part of me which things “not again…” no matter how much I enjoy the story otherwise, even subverts the themes somehow. I just don’t like stories revolving around god and the devil. It seems a bit of a petty reason not to enjoy a story, but that’s just how it is.
Regardless I still enjoyed the story very much. All the major players in the story were nice and well rounded, which is all you can ask for in a character driven story. I liked the various applications of Ig’s devil powers, and makes me sad that there is little chance of the book receiving a sequel. I would love for the chance for Joe Hill to explore the powers more, though I believe that it may be too much to ask considering how it ended. The religious themes were something I expected the moment I learned the book revolved around a guy with devil horns, so the effect was offset somewhat. I enjoyed the book a lot would recommend this book to anyone, particularly anyone who is interested in subject matter relating to the devil.
IN A WORD: DEVILISH