The Night Before Krampus

The Night Before Krampus was written by Peter Johnson and first published in 2017. It is a festive horror story which focuses on a small town with a dark past. Although the novel reads as though it could be the first part of a series, at the time of writing no future instalments have been announced.

It is two nights before Christmas and a young boy named Christoph has started to notice that something strange is afoot. His mother has left to visit his grandmother, a woman who she has not seen in years. His teacher has vanished and been replaced with a woman obsessed with European mythology. The local miser has been seen running through the streets in his underwear, claiming that the dead have returned for him. However, the strangest thing of all is the ghostly encounter that he has while hiding in an abandoned house.

The spectral vision reveals to him that three members of his community once committed a terrible crime. While they believed that they had gotten away without punishment, they did not count upon their victim laying a curse across their bloodlines. The festive season has become a time for revenge and the settling of old scores. Christoph and his friends must rely on help from unexpected sources if they wish to survive to see Christmas Day.

For you see, an old wolf is slowly making its way towards the town. The curse has been calling to it for a long time and now is finally the time for it to strike. The ancient creature draws with it a number of others, some good and some bad. Amongst these monsters are a pair of Krampus. These demons have been summoned to serve a specific purpose, however one of them is starting to grow tired of his traditional role…

If you’re looking for something a little different this holiday season, The Night Before Krampus could well be the novella for you. The story is very loosely inspired by the work of Charles Dickens, particularly drawing on elements of A Christmas Carol in both style and themes. The result gives the work the feel of a modern faerie tale. It introduces a selection of characters from European folklore and carries a deep moral message about the importance of caring for the less fortunate.

However, Johnson manages to put his own unique twist on the legend of the Krampus. Rather than being a singular entity, the Krampus of this story are implied to have once been ordinary people who have been cursed to become vengeful monsters due to their poor life choices. There is no God at work in Johnson’s world, but there is implication of an all-powerful “Sinterklaas” that influences the way that the Krampus operate. There is also magic at work, but it is largely fuelled by the decisions made my ordinary people, powerful grudges gaining savage animal forms. I found this setting to be incredibly creative and it was quick to draw me in.

The novel is competently written but did feel a little over simplistic in places. While some of the language used felt too complicated for younger readers, the overall tone of the story felt more in-keeping with a middle grade novel than a young adult one. I also didn’t find the omniscient narrator to be all that effective. This is just my personal opinion, but I felt that the focus flitted between too many different people. Children, adults, Krampus and even a dog all found themselves to be the subject of individual chapters, which felt a bit too ambitious for such a short novella.

This split in the narrative also sometimes skewed the timeline of the story, which made the action difficult to follow. For example, in one scene Christoph was called to speak to his mother on the phone and the reader was permitted to hear one half of the conversation. However, in the subsequent chapter, the narrative focus moved to Christoph’s mother to detail the other side of the conversation. This felt clumsy, as it would have streamlined the novella more to just devote one chapter to this scene. As it stood, the narrative jumps unfortunately just served to take me out of the action.

The Night Before Krampus did maintain its tension well, clearly expressing the danger that Christoph was in and leaving the reader wondering which characters were actively trying to protect him. However, I must admit that I found the ultimate conclusion to be a little disappointing. The story lost steam rapidly over the climax, leading to a very brief and underwhelming encounter with the Krampus and a hasty final chapter to tie up the loose ends.

This ending did at least tie up most of the loose ends, allowing the story to feel complete while still leaving some potential threads that could be picked up by a future sequel. However, it was still lacking something fundamental. I think that my biggest problem with it was how little involvement the protagonists, Christoph and Clarisse, had in the final showdown. A lot of the novel was devoted to preparing the two of them for facing off with a Krampus, however they never actually got to use these skills due to an eleventh-hour deus ex machina that kept them from harm.

In terms of characterisation, I also felt that The Night Before Krampus was a bit varied. The character that fares best is probably Bullet. This is the one member of Christoph’s circle of friends that gets a complete story arc and decent amount of growth as the novel progresses. However, most of the rest of the cast are not so fortunate. There is no evidence that the true villains of the tale ever really repent what they have done, and I was disappointed that most of the female cast are relegated to background roles. This was a particular shame for Clarisse, who really doesn’t get a lot to do despite being Christoph’s closest friend.

I think that the main reason for this is purely that the cast of the story was too large. The Night Before Krampus had a lot of named characters and its 150 pages just was not sufficient to give them time to shine. I really did feel that the story could have done with a strict final edit to remove or merge a number of these. This would have done wonders to streamline the tale and, in doing so, left a lot more space for character development.

I think I’ve probably said enough. The Night Before Krampus is an interestingly different Christmas read for people who like their festive tales to be a little less saccharine. While there is a lot of room for improvement, it’s chock-full of European folklore and is certainly unforgettable. If you’re a fan of faerie stories, I would certainly recommend giving it a look.

Well, that’s my last review of the year. Thank-you all for supporting Arkham Reviews over the last twelve months and have a fantastic festive season, no matter what you celebrate. Over the next week or so, I’m going to be talking about my favourite reads from 2017 but I’ll be back in early January – fresh, rested and with plenty of new books to rant about!

The Night Before Krampus can be purchased as a Paperback and eBook on Amazon.co.uk

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© Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews, 2016. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kim Dyer and Arkham Reviews with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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