Krampus And Friends: Gerald Cole
Reviewed By Ben Walker
The title of Gerald Cole’s collection of Xmas-themed stories tickled me, not least of all because it’s about my second favourite time of the year (aside from National Escargot Day), but just the thought of Krampus, the most notoriously grumpy of all Xmas icons, chumming it up with anyone brought a smile to my face. Unlike that most festive of days (Xmas, not snail day), I can’t say this book brought me much in the way of seasonal cheer or chills.
As you might expect, the first offering in this 13 story collection is dedicated to the titular behooved bastard, as old misery guts terrorises a 1600s village in Austria. There’s some enjoyable imagery, and there’s obviously been some decent research done into the legend it draws from, but the story feels like a fairytale rewritten so many times that some of the original flavour is lost. In other words, the horror doesn’t bite as effectively as the titular character might.
As the book goes on, some stories present the origins of certain folklorish creatures, where others manage to over-explain the myth. Often this means having to wade through characters either remembering or telling each other about a specific tradition, instead of just letting things play out. Other tales are simple reinterpretations of the myth that inspired them, which is nice in a way, finding out about different global traditions, but they rarely hit the mark in terms of horror. That becomes a theme as you bounce around the mostly European settings, with the odd trip to America and the USSR. Wherever you land, there are lots of short, sharp shocks which aren’t always sharp enough. Moments that might have been terrifying are reduced to a sentence or two, almost glossed over in some cases, so there’s never really a feeling of lasting unease from any of the stories.
Again, it’s like that fairytale tradition of playing down the horror; think Little Red Riding Hood. The Grimm Brothers version was already watered down from a far more torrid and horrid legend, and each subsequent telling changed to better suit its young audience, with nary a moment of cannibalism or “laying with wolves” to be found. Lots of moments like that are peppered through this book, with the frights never quite managing to elicit a chill. It’s a shame, because there’s the germ of a good idea here.
The best way to sum this book up, I think, is matter-of-fact. All the stories chug along at a decent enough pace, but there’s just something lacking about them, like there’s a keenness to recant these myths rather than put a fresh spin on them. There are also some tenuous links to other creatures like the Baba Yaga which seem out of place, or stories where Xmas is abandoned for a different holiday altogether by the end. Those left me wondering why the book didn’t go further and pull in some other seasonal festivities instead. Or at least not double up on stories inspired by France, Russia and the USA. But there’s nary a Hanukkah or Kwanza to be seen, and that lack of variety doesn’t do the book any favours.
Perhaps if this had been an anthology with different authors, viewpoints and experiences, then it would have been more intriguing. Instead, the idea runs out of steam by the midway point, making it something of a chore to finish; like staying the whole afternoon at your Nan’s house on Boxing Day, nibbling stale cheese and pineapple on sticks while everyone pretends to enjoy Monopoly. And while the final story did manage to make me smile, I didn’t leave feeling terrified, so I can’t say I’ll be going back for more.
Krampus And Friends
Christmas is seen through the eyes of thirteen different people in these stories from around the world.
- A mean village boy calls upon St. Nicholas to help him get rid of the monster Krampus.
- Rejected by his one true love, Teeter disguises himself as the Belsnickle to get his revenge.
- La Befana has a surprise visit from three wise men that changes her life forever.
- Hans Trapp makes a deal with the devil, but it doesn’t work out exactly as he planned.
- An American girl learns that there are consequences to telling lies at Christmas time in France.
- Mr. Fox has his eye on a rich woman’s wealth. But when he finds out she actually has no money, he resorts to murder, only to discover some crimes can never be forgiven.
- A childless couple create a snowchild, but there is magic in the air.
- Young Joseph encounters the witch Baba Yaga.
- Conrad’s grandmother is living with Alzheimer and he refuses to let her mind drift away without a fight. But characters from her past might have a different plan.
- Johnny travels to Iceland to escape Death, but his wicked deeds seem to pale when he encounters thirteen trolls.
- Lucy is chosen to play Sankta Lucia this Christmas and her gift comes with a magical journey.
- The holidays are fast approaching in Greece, but evil imps might destroy the world before Christmas Day.
- A performer discovers that people can appreciate humor in a wild variety of ways.
Ben got a taste for terror after sneaking downstairs to watch The Thing from behind the sofa at age 9. He’s a big fan of extreme & bizarre horror and well as more psychological frights, and most things in between. When he’s not reading, he’s writing, and when he’s not writing he’s on Twitter @BensNotWriting or reviewing books on his YouTube channel, BLURB.