Krampus: The Yule Lord by Brom
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Sometimes we are very lucky to read an author that has thoughts and sentiments so close to our own it's as though we were cut from the same cloth. For me, at this moment, it is Brom. Ironically I met him many years ago (before he had written any books) at a comic expo where he was showcasing his Gothic art. Brom came across as a quiet and thoughtful person who didn't have much to say that wasn't shown in his art. I wish at the time that I met him I'd known how alike our thoughts might be! I also wish I had talked to him more to get a real sense of him as a person.
I intentionally savoured this book. I read it slowly, thoughtfully and made it last. I haven't done this with a book in a long time and didn't plan to do it with Krampus; but I just didn't want this amazing story to end too soon. This book had a real voice to it that sang to my soul and (as cheesy as this may sound) reminded me of who I truly am.
As a raised Christian, converted Wiccan (15+ years ago); I really wanted to read a book about Christmas that wasn't about Christmas being wonderful; but instead was about how it ripped off Yule. I could not have asked for a better book than Krampus to do this. The devil figure of Krampus, while largely unknown in North America, is prevalent in European history. He beats children who don't behave or pay Yuletide tribute to him and blesses those children who do pay tribute with gold coins. It's all or nothing with this demon. Yule falls on the Winter Solstice (Dec 21) and was practiced long before Christmas existed (a fact many like to forget or look over to make their holiday seem more sacred than it might otherwise appear).
I loved Brom's use of Asgard, Loki and other ancient gods to bring together the backstory of Krampus, Santa and others. It gave a solid backing (with little explanation needed) to base these mythical characters on. Of course you didn't need to have a huge imagination to see the Krampus that Brom envisioned as there are gorgeous full colour, and pencil sketches in this book that show our characters at different levels of detail. The artwork really adds to the telling of this story and I was thrilled at every chapter break to have a new pencil sketch to look at.
The Story Itself
Plot wise Krampus (the book) is quite simple. Krampus (the character) has escaped a thousands of years prison that Santa Claus put him in and is out to destroy Christmas and bring back the traditions and beliefs of Yule. For those not aware many of the items used in popular Christmas traditions today originated from Yule; including decorating a fir tree and using shoes or stockings to fill with treats.
Brom has created a story about (mostly) awful humans and their struggle to survive. Without Krampus' involved at all the story of the humans is interesting enough. Add in some demon slaves (Belsnickel's), magic sand, a flying sleigh and a powerful sack of items (not always toys); suddenly you have a story that is complex, yet easy to follow. I loved the plot so much in Krampus. It drives forward our characters and forces them to make decisions throughout the book. This is not a passive plot by any means. Brom ensures the plot is forced forward whether our characters are ready or not.
Is it horror?
I've read in a few places that people are unsure about picking up Krampus because they believe it might be too gory or involve child abuse. Let me dissuade you from these thoughts, while many deaths happen (and a lot of blood is spilled) there is no more violence or graphic nature to this book than in your average CSI episode or best selling thriller. A few moments might be a bit much for some but they are fleeting and so short it's hard to even remember them amongst all the other details provided.
This is not so much horror as it is Gothic fantasy. There is a darkness to the entire book; but not one that fits the horror genre. Instead Krampus focuses on the horrors of our world that we have become immune to. Examples like alcoholism, strip mining, mindless video gaming and other 'normal' activities that most of society today has accepted are the true horrors. You may come away from this book feeling like your outlook on the world has changed some; but it won't be because you're horrified by gore, instead it will be because you're horrified by what we've allowed our society to become.
Nature and Respect
At it's core Krampus is really about the balance between nature and humans. We are a parasite to our planet (like it or not). We've created holidays and mass marketing to support our consumerism and endorse the greed that humans are naturally subject to. As a Wiccan I found that Brom really spoke to my heart about things I wish I could change in today's society. And even if I can't make any more of a dent in some things than I already am; it's nice to know that someone else in the world understands that what we've done is wrong; even if irreparable. We've lost respect for the 'old ways' and forgotten why they were important (and still maybe should be). Krampus reminds us of these lost traditions and thoughts in different ways and at different points during the book. There is no one moral at the end; instead values are exquisitely threaded throughout the book so that you don't ever feel overwhelmed by it; but also so you cannot close your mind to accepting the reality of our circumstances.
There are so many more things I could say about this book! Adorable characters like Isabel and her panda hat stand next to the ancient Shawnee who are more demon than human in some ways. Brom brings all our characters together by having them affected by one common thread, Krampus has influenced them in some way, shape or form. It's brilliant the way Brom has allowed everyone to find a small part of themselves in each of the Belsnickel's (Krampus' followers/slaves).
If you love Christmas and Santa Claus this is maybe not the book for you; unless you want to learn a little more about Yule. Brom has included an afterword talking of some of his research and narrative choices that may not be as accurate as they could be or evolved as he wrote. I really appreciated reading this. I knew from the introduction that Brom had to have done research but for anyone that is unsure or doesn't know many of these stories this afterword is reassurance that some thought was put into the scenarios, characters and rituals chosen.
I could easily see myself reading this book every few years in December. A nice reminder that there are others out there that dislike Christmas as much as I do and for similar reasons.
If you are looking for a Gothic read that forces you to look at the world for what it is then I highly recommend Krampus. If you're nervous about it because it is not a 'happily ever after' setting then I recommend reading the first 5 or so chapters to see if it's for you. I think almost everyone will be hooked by that point and unable to put this brilliant book down until the last page. So you better not pout, you better not cry because Krampus is coming to town and he will judge your loyalty to him and his Yuletide traditions.
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