Green Review: Horns by Joe Hill (Gollancz)

Title: Horns
Author: Joe Hill
Pages: 448
Genre: Horror/Supernatural
Standalone/Series: Standalone
Release: 16 March in Hardback
Publisher: Victor Gollancz


Ignatius Perrish spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. He woke up the next morning with one hell of a hangover, a raging headache . . . and a pair of horns growing from his temples.

Once, Ig lived the life of the blessed: born into privilege, the second son of a renowned American musician, and the younger brother of a rising late-night TV star, Ig had security and wealth and a place in his community. Ig had it all, and more – he had the love of Merrin Williams, a love founded on shared daydreams, mutual daring, and unlikely midsummer magic.

Then beautiful, vivacious Merrin was gone – raped and murdered, under inexplicable circumstances – with Ig the only suspect. He was never tried for the crime, but in the court of public opinion, Ig was and always would be guilty.

Now Ig is possessed with a terrible new power to go with his terrible new look, and he means to use it to find the man who killed Merrin and destroyed his life. Being good and praying for the best got him nowhere. It’s time for a little revenge; it’s time the devil had his due


The synopsis covers the facts of Horns but not the substance which is where the genius of Joe Hills writing lies.

I was a little worried when I started Horns. Not so much about idea, which seems cool if a little brutal, but more that this is Hill’s second novel, which are notoriously difficult.  And not only that but he has a lot to live up to after the success of his first one.

So does he manage in it Horns? Yes, definitely. And does he do better than Heart-Shaped Box? Yes again.

In his first novel his main character had money and fame but little success with relationships. This time we explore the history of a teenage sweetheart’s relationship one year after one of them is brutally raped and murdered.

At first I thought this might be a story revenge and that the devil inside of Ig would help punish those around him. Instead Hill flips between and the present shedding light on trio of Ig, Merrin and their friend Lee.

It’s a story of the breakdown of friendships and how we all have our own thoughts on the values that those friendships are built on, which aren’t always factually correct.

It’s also an exploration about what we think vs what do say and do. Ig’s new horns bring out the inner thoughts and actions of others out into the open – at least while they are in Ig’s presence – they recede and forget the revelations soon after he leaves. Though it also leaves them susceptible to suggestions to act on those inner thoughts.

Some of those thoughts do really bring the devil out in those he speaks to like the homophobic policemen that share more than a beer and a nun who needs the money from church funds much more that her church does.

What really surprised me are the layers that Hill peels away to tell his story. At first  I wanted to see more of Ig’s metamorphosis but as I got to know Ig, Merrin and Lee better I wanted to know what other things were flawed in their friendships and what else was lurking there waiting to be uncovered.

And we find out a lot including the seed of Ig’s transformation but to say more I think would spoil several moments where you understand more than the characters and can see the shoots that eventually break up their unholy trilogy.


No difficult second novel from Joe Hill instead he raises his game. Horns feels more grounded.  It’s characters and his confidence with them really shows. He has an eye for what makes us tick and uses that to get behind our eyes and pokes about on the inside of our skulls.

Joe Hill has humanity nailed. I wonder whose skin he is going to peel away next?

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