Deals with the devil never go well. People desperate or foolish enough to hand over their souls for some instant gratification are bound to wind up regretting the bottom line sooner rather than later. But what if life itself has become such a misery that the flames of hell don’t seem like such a bad trade-off? It’s not like Lucifer has a monopoly on broken promises, ruined lives, and tormented innocence. God demands sacrifice, obedience, and devotion without offering much in return, and when the worst happens, He’s usually lost in the ether, contemplating a sparrow’s fall and ignoring unanswered prayers. Say what you will about Satan, he’s on time, and he’s there when you need him. When all other recourses fail, sometimes damnation is the only way to set things right.
That’s the only hope Ignatius Perrish has left. His girlfriend, Merrin, was raped and murdered a year ago, everyone in town thinks he did it, and when he wakes up one morning, there are two horns growing out of his forehead. After spending some time with his neighbors, he realizes he isn’t hallucinating. The horns drive people to confess their sins, then ask Ig’s permission to give in to their most selfish impulses. In no time, Ig finds out just how much the locals despise him, and what little he had to live for seems to disappear entirely. But devils have always had a knack for finding out secrets, and if Ig can figure out what happened to Merrin, he may have one last shot at getting his due.
Joe Hill’s first novel, Heart-Shaped Box, was a solid horror outing that failed to live up to the promise of his debut short-story collection, 20th Century Ghosts. Horns is more confident and unexpected, taking risks in chronology and perspective for a narrative that starts off as dark comedy before becoming something richer and more affecting. As with Ghosts, Hill’s willingness to run with a supernatural concept without falling into predictable patterns keeps what could’ve been a simple revenge story from becoming stale. And as with Box, his obvious empathy for his characters makes their fates more than just a matter of ironic twists. Horns ties together a little too neatly, but it never betrays the broken hearts at its core. Instead, it finds sympathy for them in the most unlikely places.