Richard Kadrey meets Daniel Woodrell.
For 1,000 years Santa has kept his dark counterpoint Krampus magically imprisoned, and for 1,000 years Krampus has plotted his revenge. This Christmas Yule he will get it.
Krampus is all the rage these days, most recently being featured in a horror flick. Brom’s Krampus is a different sort of story. It’s not horror at all. It’s dark fantasy and southern gothic set in meth-ravaged West Virginia and owes more to writers like Ron Rash and Daniel Woodrell than Stephen King. All set against a pagan, Norse mythology. If that sounds like it’s up your alley, you’ll love it. If it doesn’t? You’ll probably still love it.
Krampus steals the show, but Jesse is the heart of the story. Jesse is a no-account, failed musician and two-bit drug mule. He lives in a crappy, cramped trailer and is estranged from his wife and young daughter. His wife has taken up with the local police chief, who runs protection for the local crime boss the General on the side. Who Jesse sometimes does work for.
But Jesse’s life takes a turn—not necessarily a good turn, maybe a turn into oncoming traffic, but a turn nonetheless—when he watches a group of gray-skinned devils attack Santa, leading to Santa’s sack falling from his sleigh and adding a skylight to Jesse’s trailer. Krampus’ minions—his Belsnickels—report back to him, and the race is on between the newly freed Krampus and Santa to recover the sack first. Jesse manages to get himself in a heap of trouble with Police Chief Dillard and the General at the same time.
Why is the sack so valuable? Because it’s a magic sack, of course. Specifically, it’s Loki’s sack. Brom draws heavily from Norse mythology. Krampus is a descendant of Loki and Santa a Norse god himself. In doing so he ties Norse mythology to old Germanic pagan Yule traditions and conceptions of Santa and Krampus, pulling in modern Christianity as well. It gives it all a wonderfully subtle twist and works exceptionally well within the story.
When Santa’s reindeer are incapacitated, the goats that pulled Thor’s chariot are used instead. Santa deploys Odin’s ravens—Huginn and Muninn—and wolves—Geri and Freki—to locate and recover his sack. Krampus grants his Belsnickels long-life and superhuman speed and strength to go along with their mottled gray skin—three are Shawnee who think he is a forest god and another a mining company representative from a hundred years ago who was in the wrong place at the wrong time. The final Belsnickel, Isabel, was just half-girl/half-woman when she was turned a few decades ago, but she’s by far the most interesting Belsnickel, and the character along with Jesse and Krampus that we really come to care about.
Jesse is the main character, but Krampus is the star. Towering seven-feet tall, with great horns and a tail, Krampus looks as much Christian devil as pagan yule lord. He’s vain, haughty, tender, and childishly enthused in turn. He’s petty and cruel, as pagan gods should be, to paraphrase Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. His version of Yuletide festivities seems a bit more fun, though. There are advantages to being a totem of fertility.
Brom is an artist as well as a writer, and the book contains several gorgeous color prints, including the three I’ve included above.
I received an unsolicited copy of Krampus from Harper Voyager.