Thursday, December 25, 2014

Krampus the Yule Lord, by Brom

You better watch out, you better not cry, you better not pout, because hoo boy does Krampus have a temper. This week in the spirit of Christmas I’m reviewing another book by Brom, Krampus, the Yule Lord. For those of you unfamiliar with the demon Krampus, (Which I suspect will be only a handful) Krampus is one of many spooky traditions found in European countries around the Winter Solstice because goddamn it is cold and dark out, we need to do something to distract ourselves from that. Krampus in particular is found in and around the Alps, specifically northern Italy, Switzerland, Austria, and some areas of southern Germany. Although the exact nature of Krampus varies from region to region, he always appears as a horned monster who brandishes switches to thrash naughty children, and on occasion eats the very worst of them. Having dealt with a few bratty children during Christmas time myself, I understand the appeal of creatures such as Krampus.

Krampus the Yule Lord, however, is a creative re-telling of the Krampus legend, mixing in various Christmas traditions from across Northern Europe, including some Norse mythology, and the characteristic slightly creepy touch of Brom. Our main protagonist is Jesse Walker, a struggling country musician living in Boone County, West Virginia. Things have been pretty rough for Jesse, but when Santa’s sack lands in the bedroom of his trailer, things start to become even more complicated. Before he knows it, Jesse gets tied up in a war between Santa Claus and Krampus, a centuries-old war over the very nature of Christmas itself. Initially I didn’t much care for Jesse because he wasn’t a character I could really get behind, but that actually left room for a good character development arc and Jesse improved considerably towards the end. Hooray character development!

The biggest weakness of this book is that I never really found myself rooting for Krampus until towards the very end of the book. Krampus informs us of Santa’s treachery and how the kind, gentle, and gift-giving aspects of Santa’s nature are all an act for a much more nefarious purpose. Although we’re told this by Krampus, most of what we see of Santa is a very earnest, generous, and sometimes very troubled soul who’s trying to make the world a better place. Granted, Santa wields a sword like a badass as well, but considering I’m a huge fan of Santa as depicted in Rise of the Guardians, I’m definitely okay with Santa knocking a few heads together if he needs to. By contrast, through much of the book Krampus works through fear and intimidation, in some ways a walking manifestation of the things that go bump in the night around this time of year. It just brings Krampus’s allegations of Santa’s hidden wickedness into question and I found myself rooting more for the man in red.

The reason I bring this up is the book is titled Krampus after all, and reading the book jacket blurb I was left with the impression we were supposed to be rooting for Krampus. There is some development towards the end and I ended up feeling a little more sympathetic towards Krampus, but not by a lot. It just makes me wonder if we were supposed to like Krampus at all until he stops being such an enormous jerk. Wanting to punish the wicked is one thing, but holding a grudge against Santa is something else entirely. So if you’re going to read this book, just be aware that you may not find yourself agreeing with Krampus much during the book.

Another shame was that there were several characters who weren’t terribly well developed in the course of the novel. We did get to see some really good development with Jesse and Krampus, but other characters like Perchta and Krampus’s Shawnee buddies are little more than background pieces who got their own illustrations in the book. There were possibly a dozen different, incredibly interesting stories about all the different side characters that could have been told, even just a little bit, which would have better satisfied my curiosity. It is, however, probably to the book’s benefit that they remained background characters because I’ve seen far too many books wander off into multiple directions and suffer because they tried to tell six stories instead of telling one well. 

I definitely will also say that this is a book for adults. I mentioned in my review of The Plucker that although Brom does a lot of illustrated work, this should not be confused with kid friendly work at all. The typical spooky, creepy feel that Brom brings to his work aside, the language alone is enough to merit parents looking first before letting the kids read. (Of course, I grew up in a house where I wasn’t allowed to swear at all until I was eighteen.) However, I leave that judgment in the hands of parents and recommend they read the book first themselves.

My final nitpick comes, of course, with Brom’s afterword detailing a little bit about the history of Santa and different Christmas traditions across the globe. Brom mentions a very common myth that Coca-cola helped spread the image of Santa Claus in red and white in the 1930’s, a popular myth because of Coca-cola’s own red and white color scheme and because it takes a playful jab at the commercialization of Christmas that’s been going on for nearly a century at this point. I would like to point out that our modern image of Santa can be traced back to famed cartoonist Thomas Nast, who originally portrayed Santa Claus in a red and white suit in 1881, well before Coca-cola began using Santa for their advertising campaigns. This lesson in pedantic historical trivia brought to you by The Kalpar.

Issues aside, I rather enjoyed this book and I think it’s a great addition to the collection of holiday tales. Creepy, scary, and yet exciting, Brom delivered another excellent tale with his own idiosyncratic twist.

- Kalpar 

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