Review: Locke & Key by Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez (Audiobook)

Locke_Key_Cover_FINALAbout Locke & Key

Based on the best-selling, award-winning graphic novel series Locke & Key - written by acclaimed suspense novelist Joe Hill (NOS4A2, Horns) and illustrated by Gabriel Rodriguez - this multicast, fully dramatized audio production brings the images and words to life.

A brutal and tragic event drives the Locke family from their home in California to the relative safety of their ancestral estate in Lovecraft, Massachusetts, an old house with powerful keys and fantastic doors that transform all who dare to walk through them. As siblings Tyler, Kinsey, and Bode Locke discover the secrets of the old house, they also find that it's home to a hate-filled and relentless creature that will not rest until it forces open the most terrible door of them all....

Featuring performances by Haley Joel Osment (Entourage, The Sixth Sense), Tatiana Maslany (Orphan Black), Kate Mulgrew (Orange Is the New Black, Star Trek: Voyager), Joe Hill, Gabriel Rodriguez, and Stephen King (The Stand, 11-22-63), as well as a cast of more than 50 voice actors, this audio production preserves the heart-stopping impact of the graphic novel's astounding artwork through the use of richly imagined sound design and a powerful original score.

Locke & Key is FREE until November 4, 2015.

*Locke & Key contains explicit language and adult situations.

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My Thoughts

The Locke & Key graphic novels have been on my to-read list, and sitting among a stack of other shamefully neglected graphic novels and trades, for several years now. You'd have thought that after discovering the pure joy of Joe Hill's NOS4A2 that I would have dived headlong into this comic book series, but alas... (Maybe somebody can loan me a Time Key to free up more reading hours in the day?). When Audible announced its adaptation of Hill's and artist Gabriel Rodriguez's much-acclaimed IDW comic book series, I was thrilled to give it a listen, and also curious as to how the heck one adapts a comic book for an audiobook.

Comics, obviously, are quite a different breed from prose novels, given their reliance on visual imagery to tell a story. Sure, there's narrative boxes (typically) and plenty of dialogue (usually) and thought bubbles, but the nature of a comic book is in its art. Audible Studios has worked around this translation from visual to audio by harkening back to the days of radio productions. Rather than rewriting the Locke & Key comics into a more novelistic approach for narration, the story is told by way of audio drama with a cast of more than 50 voice actors.

For the most part, this approach works quite well, but with a few caveats.

The story itself is largely understandable and very approachable in this re-imagined fashion, and for roughly 13 and a half hours we follow the Locke children, and their mother, Nina, as they relocate to the family estate of Lovecraft Mansion in the wake of the Locke patriarch's murder. While readjusting to their new lives, the children begin finding strange keys scattered and hidden across the house, keys that unlock doors into mysterious and terrifying new realms. Keys that are also being hunted for by an old evil named Dodge.

As the son of Stephen King, it seems clear that Hill has inherited quite a bit of his father's story-telling panache and hits on a few similarities in style. This was most clear in NOS4A2, but Locke & Key also exhibits some of the same themes common in many of King's works (and keep an ear open for a nice little homage to King's Carrie late in the story). First of all, this is an epic work of horror, with smatterings of fantasy thrown in for good measure, and how it affects the everyman. The central characters aren't burdened with super-powers, and most of their daily challenges come from attending school, making friends, dealing with being the outcasts because of the hellacious events in their lives. This is also a story of multi-generational horrors, as the Locke kids discover the secrets of their ancestry and the tribulations their father and his friends experienced upon discovering the keys.

All of this is performed admirably by the large cast, and I felt fully invested in these characters right from the get-go. The acting is pretty superb all-around, as is the sound production and score, with the cast and crew even making use of real-world locations to record, rather than sticking it out in a recording studio for the entire job. My only real issues came in the lack of narrative connective tissue in the big action scenes, which often felt muddled and pulled me out of the drama as I struggled to figure out who stabbed who, whether or not X or Y lived, and what exactly was happening in the aftermath. A few of these issues were mostly resolved in the following minutes, but the initial impact was jarring and confusing. Still, there were a few times where I imagined the narrative must have been clearer in the original comics and that certain scenes would have worked better as a companion piece to the source material. Maybe I missed a few things due to my lack of familiarity with the comic books, particularly in how the characters appear. We usually don't get any kind of character descriptions until much too late, well after I'd already formed a visual of who they are in my head and so I spent much of the narrative not realizing one family was African American, or that another sported plenty of ink across his body, or that one has a particular piercing that becomes quite a distinguishing feature for one of the Locke boys in the aftermath of a brutal murder.

These, mostly little, issues aside, I found Locke & Key to be a completely engrossing audio-drama and an absolutely terrific listen. The acting is strong, and Hill's writing, as expected, is completely top-notch. As an audio-drama, this sucker just works, and it works well. I was scared in all the right places, and my heart was racing during the brutal climax and left feeling exhausted in the wake the Locke family's cataclysmic showdown with Dodge. I might have even, maybe, just a little bit, kind of teared up in the final moments because I was so damn attached to these characters and to this family. And although the graphic novels have been untouched thus far, this audiobook has made me aware of exactly how much greatness I've been missing, so I've ordered the final volume to complete my set of IDW Locke & Key hardcovers and hope to dive into them soon. This is a completely fantastic story, and Joe Hill himself is quickly becoming one of my absolute favorite writers that I can trust to turn out solid, quality work and whose stories I look forward to the most. If Locke & Key becomes one of my latest die-hard obsessions, well, I can blame this recording for it.

Buy Locke & Key At Amazon (Free until 11/4/2015)

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Michael Hicks

Michael Patrick Hicks is the author of the science fiction novels Convergence, an Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award 2013 Quarter-Finalist, and Emergence. His work has appeared in several anthologies, and he has written for the websites Graphic Novel Reporter and Audiobook Reviewer. In between compulsively buying books and adding titles that he does not have time for to his Netflix queue, he is hard at work on his next story.


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