Jesse feels like a loser. His soon-to-be ex-wife, Linda, told him as much before she left, taking their daughter Abigail with her. He needed to get his act together, she begged him. To take his music seriously. To build a better life with his family. But Jesse’s insecurities always manage to get the best of him, and so he fails to progress. Now Linda and Abigail are living with a corrupt cop who has always had it in for Jesse due to some of his somewhat illicit side-hustles. And he’s alone, living in a bleak trailer with a mood to match. To make matters worse, it’s Christmas Eve, and Jesse has nothing to show for it — no gifts to present to his adoring daughter. Jesse feels like a loser, all right. On top of it all, he must also be losing his mind, because he swears he has just seen Santa Claus drop out of the sky and run into his trailer park, and a pack of monsters following behind him.
Krampus feels like a loser. He has been imprisoned under the earth for the better part of a millennia by now, placed there by a traitorous Santa Claus, betrayer and usurper. His false holiday has overtaken the tried-and-true traditions of Yuletide, making the world forget about its old gods and spirits and, indeed, the Yule Lord himself. Full of vengeful rage, he sends his faithful Belsnickels after the jolly old fraud, intent on unleashing the spirit of Yule back into the world, where it rightfully belongs.
Fate will make Jesse and Krampus cross paths, forming the unlikeliest of duos, finding that they need one another to fulfill each of their ambitions.
I didn’t think much of Brom’s Krampus: The Yule Lord, unfortunately. It’s a shame, since Slewfoot was one of my favorite reads this past Hallowe’en season, and in many ways this is very much the proto-version of that book, with all its focus on Pagan traditions and customs, and its fervent criticism of Christianity. In Slewfoot, this angle was compelling because its main character was a woman fighting against Puritan superstition and oppression with the help of the title character, an old forest god that, to the colonists, represents the evils of the natural world. Here, Krampus — basically a more fanatical, whimsical version of Slewfoot — uses his disdain for monotheistic narrow-mindedness to… mostly help a small-time crook get back with his wife and daughter?
Which is basically my main gripe with this book. Jesse’s story, while interesting in a crime drama sort of way, bears no real relevance to Krampus’s plot against Christmas, other than in the most peripheral of ways. And the problem is that, despite this novel’s title, Jesse is very much the main character: he’s the one who gets a proper arc; the one whose journey forms the emotional center of the book. The way the story is constructed, though, ends up as acting like a detriment to both plots: whenever a particular thread is picked up it feels like an interruption of the other, rather than a complementary narrative. It makes the novel seem as if two vastly different books have been forcefully fused together, forming a very oddly-shaped beast. It doesn’t help that the characters themselves comment on this same thing, either, with Jesse forever complaining about Krampus’s obsession being an obstacle for his own objective. Again, it’s a very peculiar choice.
I didn’t hate the book, though. Even if it’s not what you expect going in, you still end up invested in Jesse’s story. And on the more fantastical side of the tale, I found Brom’s Norse take on the whole Christmas mythos fascinating. It’s a little overwrought, but it also makes complete sense to make trickster figures like Santa Claus and Krampus related to the god of mischief himself. Krampus was an interesting character — a monster with a romantic bent. I enjoyed reading his melodramatic rants and outbursts. Really, it’s just a shame that he ends up becoming a supporting character in his own book.
Once again, Brom’s art is stellar, and once again I wish there was much more of it here.