This novel blew me away. The audiobook version is nearly twenty hours long. I consumed it in a little under four days.
I couldn't stop. I WANTED to stop but I just couldn't make myself. I wanted to stop because this is a book drenched in sadness, fear and sacrifice.
I was living in the shadow of how bad things were going to get but I couldn't move away, not because I was fascinated by the evil in the book in some kind of ghoulish, car-crash-rubber-necking way, but because the book never extinguished the hope that good might win out and I passionately wanted that to happen.
The book also never left me in any doubt that there would be a toll. In this book, nothing comes for free, there is always a toll.
Perhaps it was because I listened to this book during long drives, but I began to feel that the book was the Rolls Royce Silver Wraith and that I was trapped inside it, paying for my ride by having my emotions twisted until the only option was to cry.
The book is magnificently performed by Kate Mulgrew, who I fell a little in love with when she was Captain Janeway, lighting up the otherwise unremarkable "Star Trek: Voyager" series. She brings power and passion to the voices of her characters and performs every moment of the twenty hour read with complete focus, giving the book the impact it deserves.
The book reminds me of the very best of Stephen King's writing: "IT" or "The Shining", but Joe Hill is not a Stephen King mimic, his style is all his own.
At a time when many horror/thriller books try to cram all the action into a few days to keep the experience intense, Joe Hill has produced a book that spans decades and is all the more intense for that. We see the main character, Vic, short for Victoria, grow from a young girl through to an adult mother and share all her traumas along the way. We watch Bing, a simple-minded man with an instinct for evil, evolve into someone truly monstrous over years and years. We see characters, once full of youth and promise, fall from grace and become the flawed adults so many of us are.
Joe Hill understands that good heroes have flaws but the best heroes have their flaws worsened by the heroics they perform. Vic's heroics are slowly eroding her sanity. Maggie's heroics cost her the thing she values most, using words well. In Hill's world, "with great power, comes great sacrifice".
The magical/supernatural elements of this story are handled perfectly. The iconography is original and powerful and builds upon itself as the novel progresses, The interior logic of the magic is remorseless. The magic itself remains sufficiently ambiguous to allow either doubt or belief.
The book is stronger for the fact that the "real world" is just as threatening as anything the supernatural has to offer, and by the fact that all actions have consequences. This is not a story where the heroine can sustain damage, then cast a spell or change shape, and all is well again. In Hill's world, scars are forever.
What makes Hill's world worthwhile is the love and the loyalty that the flawed, scarred, people offer to each other. They give meaning to the sacrifices.
You've probably gathered by now that I'm not going to talk about the plot, even though its a good one. I'm sure that, in a years time, I will have forgotten elements of the plot. I'm equally sure that I will remember the people and the emotions that they provoked.
My advice: let Kate Mulgrew read this book to you, but don't start it until you have many hours to spare and a private place to cry.