Short Take: A too-brief visit with old friends.
(*Note: I received an advance copy of this book for review.*)
Good morning, nerdlings! I am mostly recovered after a late night out at the fair, where I was lucky enough to see Gabriel Iglesias, aka Fluffy live. He put on a fantastic show and my face still hurts (yes, I know, IT’S KILLING YOU) from laughing.
I also have to give a shout-out to local fairs, and all their fun traditions: corn dogs, rigged games, fried oreos, animal smells, cotton candy, rides with questionable safety ratings, and fried cheese on a stick.. Having always lived in a small town, I tend to take fairs for granted, and don’t go to them very much anymore, but it only takes a single whiff of the air to kick me right in the nostalgia-bone.
And speaking of nostalgia for small towns, dearies, welcome back to Ember Hollow, which we first visited in the gloriously Halloween-themed acid trip of Red Harvest. Consider yourselves warned: Grim Harvest is the sequel to Red Harvest and therefore, this review will have many spoilers for the latter. If you haven’t read it yet (dude, what?? Get on that already!), you should probably stop right here.
It’s a year after the Pumpkin Parade Massacre, when Ragdoll Ruth (religious fanatic) and Everett Geelens (psychopathic killer) nearly destroyed the town, killing dozens, injuring even more, and causing untold anguish before being slaughtered themselves.
Among the walking (read: staggering) wounded is Dennis Barcroft, former lead singer of the Chalk Outlines and no-longer-recovering alcoholic. Now, he’s off the wagon and into a ditch, leaving behind the band, his friends, family, and Jill, the love of his life. Dennis’s younger brother Stuart is also suffering from a humiliating condition as a result of last year’s trauma, on top of the usual growing pains of puppy love and pubescent body image issues.
Candace Geelens, Everett’s sister and the only surviving member of their family, is in foster care hell. Reverend McGlazer’s faith is being tested in ever more horrific ways as the unholy presence in the church grows stronger, and secrets from the town’s past threaten to destroy its future.
And if all that weren’t fun enough, Nico Rizzoli, Ragdoll Ruth’s lover and partner in crime, has escaped from prison and is out for revenge. Bloody, gruesome, gory, creative revenge. I mean sure, he could just kill everyone with a gun or knife or chainsaw, but it just so happens that he knows a witch who knows a spell to turn Nico and his biker friends into werewolves for a little extra havoc-wreaking. And maybe, if Nico can figure out just the right spell and sacrifice just the right person, he could even bring Ruth back.
Grim Harvest, as I mentioned, is the second book in the Haunted Hollow series, and it’s my understanding that there will be at least one more. It’s a decent follow up to Red Harvest (which I legit LOVED), but it feels more like the middle of a trilogy than a complete work in and of itself, a bridge between a fabulous introduction and an explosive finale. Other reviewers have mentioned that if you haven’t read the first book, this one is hard to follow, and I can totally see that, but I don’t really count that as a flaw. It’s kind of the nature of a series – if you have no idea that Peter Parker was bitten by a radioactive spider, it makes no sense when he’s swinging on webs.
My issue is more the sense that Grim Harvest is a placeholder between the major parts of the story, instead of a major part itself. Sure, there are a couple of new plot lines and characters that have a complete beginning, middle and end, but our main characters just don’t get much movement. They’re in the book, but it doesn’t feel like they grow or change in any significant way, or even play as much of a role as they did in the first book.
Sure, they go to the places and do the things, but with so many characters and plot lines in barely 200 pages, they just don’t get to breathe the way they deserve to. All of the psychological fallout for each of them is explored in great depth and detail, throughout every scene, and in the end, each of them is fixed with a couple of sentences. It doesn’t feel earned.
One of the best parts of Red Harvest was the way the friends & families interacted with each other, the simple affection and humor that they had, and that feels somewhat lacking here. Even when Stuart and DeShaun are being their obnoxious thirteen year old boy selves, there’s part of Stuart that just can’t relax and enjoy the moment. It’s understandable, but it also undermines a lot of what made Red Harvest so much fun despite its horrific sequences. Ditto the group of punks – their friendship and banter were fantastic last time, and they don’t even really have a conversation this time.
So in the end, I’ll still read the next book, because Mr. Greene has never really let me down. I imagine that he’s got something incredible planned for the finale.
The Nerd’s Rating: THREE HAPPY NEURONS (and some fried fair food cause I’m craving it again already.)