Trollhunters has a fairly interesting history. It was originally announced back in 2010 that Guillermo Del Toro was planning to make an animated movie (first with Disney, then with Dreamworks), which was to be based around a book that he had just written. Now, five years on, there has been no sign of a Trollhunters film but the book (co-written by Daniel Kraus) is due for release next week. Please note that this review is based on an advanced copy that I received from Netgalley and therefore might contain some differences from the published text.
In 1969, hundreds of children disappeared in San Bernardino, California in what became known as the Milk Carton Epidemic. The last of these was Jack Sturges, leaving behind his traumatised younger brother Jim. Although the disappearance remained unexplained, Jim knew what he saw. Jack was dragged away beneath a bridge by a huge and hideous troll.
Many years have passed and Jim Sturges Snr. has grown into an incredibly paranoid adult. He still believes in the monsters that roam in the night and has become obsessed with keeping his son, Jim Sturges Jr., safe from them. His overbearing parenting has caused a deep rift in his relationship with his son. Now aged fifteen, Jim is sick of never being allowed to take part in any after school activities and remains at the bottom of the social ladder along with his only friend, Tobias “Tub” Dershowitz.
Jim only wants to have the same freedoms as the rest of his classmates but when he sees a huge creature lurking in the school locker room, he begins to wonder if he’s suffering from the same mental illness as his father. Soon he starts to see the creatures everywhere and, to make matters worse, they seem to be hunting for him. Determined not to damage his reputation further, Jim keeps his sightings to himself. Yet, as the visions grow more frequent he is forced to face the deadly truth. Trolls are real and this might just be the beginning of a fresh wave of kidnappings…
Let’s begin with my usual warning. This is not a novel for readers with weak constitutions. This book is very gory in places and stuffed full of all manner of thoroughly disgusting creatures. Del Toro and Kraus also don’t scrimp on the bodily fluids and so the story comes seeped in vomit, bile, pus and other things not uttered in polite conversation. If your squeamish, it’s probably best to sit this one out. This is a book for people who like their horror to be visceral and utterly gross.
To say that I was excited to read this novel is a huge understatement. I am an enormous fan of Del Toro’s work and was thrilled to be sent an ARC of this story. The presentation of the book itself is also stunning as it’s filled with beautiful illustrations of the different trolls, making it a very nice looking novel to add to any collection. However, on reading it, I have to say that I was a little disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that it’s a bad book. It’s just not quite as good as it could have been.
You can certainly see Del Toro’s mark on the novel in the fine details. The different troll races that Jim encounters are all utterly unique creations and are described to the tiniest detail. The all have their own strengths, weaknesses and disgusting habits – ranging from organ-barfing Nullhullers to stealthy rust trolls who take pride in their unpronounceable true name. In one memorable scene, Jim finds himself in a subterranean market place (not too dissimilar from the Troll Market of Hellboy II). This was my absolute favourite part of the novel as it really is a descriptive treat, allowing the authors to effectively showcase the staggering power of their combined imagination.
However, despite the creative and original monsters, the story still felt as though it was missing something fundamental. It’s hard to put a finger on what exactly but I think a lot of it came down to the structure. The pacing of Trollhunters was a bit all over the place. It took half of the 320 page novel for the story to find its feet. Before this, it felt a little like it was all spark and no fire. The scenes where Jim saw strange things were interesting but the explanation was drawn out for far so long. We saw a troll right in the prologue so it’s no surprise to the reader that they actually exist. There is simply no need to wait so long before revealing the true purpose of the novel.
After this, the pacing of the story varies wildly. Jim’s training was far too short for my liking. In one chapter he is shown as being hardly able to lift a sword while in the next he is more than capable of using it to fell a troll. Characters fell out but made up again almost immediately (with no real reason for them doing so). Jim’s dad vanishes from the plot for a huge amount of time and seems to undergo major character development off page. A certain character who barely appears in the first half of the story suddenly plays a major role in the climax. While fast paced and very exciting (the final battle had me utterly hooked), the novel just felt very clumsy. I hope that this is just an issue with the ARC because it did really feel more like a first draft than a final novel.
Yet, worst of all, was the exposition. This really started to get on my nerves after a while. Characters in the story were incredibly prone to monologuing. Lengthy paragraphs, sometimes whole chapters, were devoted to having a single character talking about things. These discourses ranged from past events to thorough explanations for their actions. Whenever I came across one of these blocks of text, I just found my attention starting to wander.
In terms of character, the authors actually did fairly well. While the secondary characters were exaggerated to the point of being caricatures (the brave cop, the stuffy curator, the mean maths teacher), the core cast were all very likable and, most importantly, behaved like real teenagers. My only issue with Jim and Tub was that they felt a little young. The novel said that they were fifteen years old but their narrative voice often made me think of them as being closer to twelve.
I also had a particular liking to the main troll characters, in particular ARRRGH!!! (of the Lancashire ARRRGH!!!s) as she was both imposing and innocent in equal measure. Blinky, despite being a little Abe Sapien-ish, was also a fun character. It was just a shame that he talked so much, providing most of the unnecessary exposition that I mentioned above. However, I wasn’t so taken by the villain – Gunmar the Black. Gunmar’s presence is not really felt until the climax and even them he is a little flat. Sure, he’s physically imposing, but his plan just boils down to “kill all the humans”. That’s more than a little dull. As you may have realised by now, I love complex villains. Gunmar was just a little too simple for my liking.
Well, there’s not much more I can say about this one without spoilers. Trollhunters is a bit of a mixed bag. It’s an imaginative story with lots of gross scenes but it does have some rather serious problems with its structure and characterisation. If you’re a horror fan it’s a fun read but don’t expect anything too special.
Trollhunters is due for release on 7th July 2015 and is currently available to pre-order on Amazon.co.uk