Once again, it’s time for another fantastic Christmas gift suggestion for the geekishly inclined! My suggestion? Joe Hill’s novel NOS4A2. Horror for Christmas? You bet. Not only that, but this is a Christmas horror story with a fantasy subtext so it’s just about perfect for a fan of imaginative fiction.
As a child, Victoria “Vic” McQueen discovers she has the ability to use her bicycle to access a portal that passes through time and space that takes anywhere she wants to go within seconds. Called “the Shorter Way”, it is a convenient way to travel, but it exacts a heavy cost on her health so she doesn’t do it very often.
Vic learns that others have similar powers after an encounter with a friendly librarian while on one of her trips. All of them, she explains, have an object that they use to access the power. Where Vic has her bicycle, the librarian has a sack of Scrabble letters that she can use to tell the future – and Vic’s future includes “the Wraith.”
The Wraith isn’t a person, it’s a thing: a vintage 1938 Rolls Royce Wraith (vanity plate: NOS4A2) driven by Charles Talent Manx, a Christmas-obsessed child killer. Manx, like Vic, has a gift: The ability to drain children’s spirits dry and drive what’s left away to an extra-dimensional place called Christmasland where they live as little vampires for eternity. Manx uses their energy to stay young, and is now almost immortal.
Like Vic’s bike, the Wraith is an extension of Manx: Christmas music plays over its radio no matter how often you try to adjust the knob, and its glove compartment is magically full of Christmas tree ornaments. Children who go for a ride in the Wraith slowly drain away, and what’s even creepier is that they enjoy the experience thanks to Manx’s strange powers. They can’t wait to get to Christmasland. Manx thinks he’s doing a good deed, too: By kidnapping them and giving them a home in Christmasland, he’s “saving” them from adulthood.
Vic is fated to face Manx, but there’s no guarantee she’ll survive the encounter. Manx is powerful and has a vicious new friend: a gas-mask wearing murderous sidekick who helps Manx kill the parents who get in his way. Will Vic have the strength and sanity to pass through the Shorter Way once more and put an end to the master of Christmasland?
I loved NOS4A2 because it’s a great new take on the vampire story that doesn’t feature a traditional vampire and a perfect antidote to the treacly sweetness of the holiday season. Any book that can make me look at a Christmas tree and make me shudder in horror (even more than I do so – I’m not a holiday guy!) is alright with me.