Santa’s not the only one coming to town...
It has tormented European children for centuries. Now America faces its wrath. Unsuspecting kids vanish as a blizzard crushes New Jersey. All that remains are signs of destruction—and bloody hoof prints stomped in the snow.
Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer awakes on December 5 feeling depressed. Already feuding with his police chief father and golden boy older brother, Billy’s devastated when his dream girl rejects him. When an unrelenting creature infiltrates his town, endangering his family and friends, Billy must overcome his own demons to understand why supposedly innocent high school students have been snatched, and how to rescue them from a famous saint’s ruthless companion—that cannot be stopped.
About the Author
Matt Manochio was born in 1975 in New Jersey and graduated from The University of Delaware in 1997 with a history/journalism degree. He spent the majority of his 13-year newspaper career at the Daily Record in Morris County, New Jersey, where he won multiple New Jersey Press Association Awards for his reporting. He wrote about one of his passions, rock 'n' roll giants AC/DC, for USA Today and considers that the highlight of his journalism career. He left newspapers in 2011 for safer employment, and currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and son. The Dark Servant is his first novel.
[I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.]
I'm the kind of guy who thinks that Die Hard is the best Christmas movie ever, while absolutely despising A Christmas Story wholeheartedly. And, frankly, give me Scrooged over the straight-up Dickens classic come Dec. 25, or even Lethal Weapon. Heresy? Yeah, maybe, but whatever... All of this is to say that when it comes to Christmas stories, I'm looking for something a bit off-kilter, something most holiday purists would see as largely non-traditional.
In short, give me Krampus over Santa Claus any day.
And that is exactly what Matt Manochio does with The Dark Servant, a delightful bit of X-Mas horror that sees naughty high schoolers abducted by Kringle's dark, demonic other. Manochio has done his homework when it comes to the hoof-footed beast, with a story derived directly from the mythology of Krampusnacht and what feels like a heaping amount of 1980s-inspired B-horror fun.
While the book is hardly a fright-fest - in fact, I don't recall finding anything in this book to be downright chilling or truly horrifying, despite the menace Krampus represents and the agonies endured by the cast of high schoolers in peril - it is, at the very least, an entertaining creature feature that's more The Monster Squad than Alien.
One thing that Manochio does very well, though, are his characters. Billy and Mike have an easy-going and relateable friendship, and I'd wager we all had similar relationships in high school. Billy's pining over his classmate, Maria, is familiar but nicely done, without ever feeling too cloying or sappy. Both Billy and Maria feature prominently, and I enjoyed spending time with them. The family dynamic between Billy, his brother Tim, and their local cop father also rang some true notes for me.
Although I was expecting, and ultimately hoping, for more of a terror thrill ride, The Dark Servant entertained me well enough to keep me happy. Thematically, the work brings up some important issues regarding bullying and the traumatic physiological toll those cruel taunts can carry, but it doesn't plumb those murky depths quite deeply enough to satisfy. Overall, it's an enjoyable read, but feels a bit too light-weight in the topics its author tackles. Still, it's not a bad bit of holiday-themed reading, even if Manochio pulls his punches a little too carefully and a little too often. (3.5/5 stars)