Today is December 5th which makes tonight Krampusnacht and tomorrow St Nicholas Day. These holidays are mostly German and Eastern European, but I started celebrating St Nicholas with a Polish aunt about eight years ago. Some time ago I saw this book on the shelf of a favorite independent bookstore and almost bought it. Then 2 months ago I saw it again, and I bought it on a whim. I am very glad I did.
Krampus is frequently a figure in horror movies and fiction, and this book goes in that direction, but it’s not all about horror. The opening prologue is spoken by Krampus and contains threats against his ancient enemy Santa Clause whose true name he can’t bring himself to speak. More on this later.
The story is set in Appalachian West Virginia, and follows the (mis)adventures of one Jesse Walker. Jesse is a struggling musician who has little work, and is facing a divorce and possible loss of his beloved daughter Abigail. To make matters worse, Linda (Jesse’s soon to be ex-wife) has started seeing the sheriff who everyone knows is in cahoots with the local drug lord and all around bad guy the General. A mysterious bag falls from the sky as Santa is and his reindeer are chased by a group of devils. The bag turns out to be able to produce whatever the holder asks, and Jesse has it. He eventually gets caught with the bag by the ‘devils’ and through them meets Krampus, who claims to be the true owner of the bag and needs it to escape centuries of imprisonment. The rest of the story follows Jesse, Krampus, and Santa Clause (and their various factions) as they all struggle for possession of the bag. If I go any further than this, there would be spoilers, and with this book, you don’t want that.
I love the characters of Krampus and Santa, both of whom have heavy roots in Norse mythology in this story (also in the history of the characters, but I suspect there may have been some embellishments on that level in the book). Both are developed into complex characters who have both good and evil in them. In Krampus’ case, he is very concerned about ecology and how humans have been treating the earth while he has been out of the picture, while Santa turns out to be a former Norse deity with a dark history. Krampus also has a surprisingly good grasp on child psychology which comes into play in the second half of the book.
What I liked less were some of the human characters. The Sheriff and General are both pretty stereotypical bad guys who try to rationalize their evil unconvincingly. The parts of the story involving these two border on soap opera villainy, and I hate soap opera. Their fates are satisfying though. I particularly found Santa’s involvement in both events a good, interesting touch.
When I saw a new Krampus movie was opening, I was excited that it might be this book, but alas it was not. The action and characters of this book would make a great film; the majority of the plot is that exciting and well-paced. I strongly recommend this read for any season.