Michelle Herbert reviews Horns by Joe Hill…
Horns is the story of Ignatius Perrish and what may seem like his journey to hell, except he already lives there. It is almost a year since his girlfriend Merrin Williams was brutally raped and murdered with Ig being accused of this heinous crime. Horns begins with Ig waking to find that overnight he has started to grow horns and has no memory of how he got home. Once Ig meets other people he realises he also has the ability to touch people to see their biggest sins, as well as making people want to compulsively tell him their bad thoughts and impulses.
Horns could be a very simple revenge story but Joe Hill has written a larger theme focusing on the evil within people and what we do to survive the everyday. Ig lives in the small town of Gideon and as he is tries to get rid of his powers, he comes to realise that the people of this town really do believe that he is guilty of killing Merrin – there is no such thing as innocent till proven guilty here. All Ig craves is the reality where people’s secrets were their own.
The story is split into parts which flick between the present and the past. Each part leads us deeper into this story and I am glad that this is a book that doesn’t leave the big reveal to the last page, but actually allows us to know the killer halfway through the book. This doesn’t lessen the tension of the story though – in fact this continues to build. Just because you know the identity of a killer, would you be able to actually do something about them and would anyone actually believe you?
If there is a fault in this story it is that Merrin is one of the main characters but as she is dead from the start of the book we only really see her through other people’s perspectives, rather than Merrin having her own motivations and desires. She is like a cipher reflecting the dreams and fantasies of the male characters.
The main theme for me was good vs. evil, it is constantly set up asking questions of religion. There is a lot of religious iconography throughout the novel. Ig spends a lot of time preaching about the Devil actually working for humanity, allowing us to be happy as he cares that we are having a good time, whilst God seems to have taken the back seat. Then there are questions of character: Was Ig saved from himself by meeting Merrin all those years ago? Can anyone truly be said to be good or is it the way we were raised by our parents? Out of all the characters this is Ig’s journey to redemption even though he is a character that seems to be reacting rather than being proactive.
Joe Hill has written a very dark book, full of revelations and misunderstandings. For all of its horror this is a story of love that keeps the story grounded in its fantastical moments. What Ig ends up facing is evil in human form with no remorse or sorrow for the deeds they have instigated; can Ig become the monster he needs to be to deal with this?