Joe Hill writes novels, short stories, and graphic novels. His work features extremely flawed but genuinely likable protagonists who are forced to confront their dark sides as they battle evil. A Hill tale also sets the stage with a menacing atmosphere from the first lines. Readers are also drawn to Joe Hill because he mines their modern lives for fear. Hill captivates readers with this ability to use the best of the time-tested horror traditions while injecting a shot of the new to keep things freshly frightening.Recently I read the newest entry in his Locke and Key series, Keys to the Kingdom. Keys to the Kingdom also garnered Hill a 2011 Eisner Award for Best Writer.
Here is the gist of the series. It follows the three Locke children as they deal with their father’s murder, their alcoholic mother, and a supernatural being who is stalking them. These are typical 21st Century American kids; they listen to iPods and text each other, but they also live in a creepy, isolated, old house, filled with keys that can do magical and dangerous things. While they live in modern times, the feud between their family and the supernatural being out to collect all of the keys and destroy them has been going on for generations.
Click here to access my horror review index which includes my reports on the first three entries in the series including readalike options.
Specifically, Keys to the Kingdom continues where we left off, with the Locke children using the keys they have found to battle a force out to destroy them however, in this installment the kids finally figure out that the physical manifestation of this force is masquerading as their best friend. The kids also begin turning on each other throughout the course of the book. The biggest key of them all is in play and causing problems, and things turn much, much darker.
This books packs a punch. It also takes a drastic and absolutely terrifying turn in the final pages. I was shocked and got chills. This is a big deal because at this point, it takes quite a bit to shock me.
As usual, the illustrations by Gabriel Rodriguez are gorgeous. The drawings and the over all visual feel of Keys to the Kingdom has a darker palate that also underscores the overall change in the series' tone. The wonder and awe that marked the start of the series as the kids discovered the power of the keys, best illustrated in Vol 2: Head Games, is gone. The rich and colorful drawings that accompanied that volume are replaced by grays, black, and lots of red blood. But it makes sense because the burden of the keys and the peril faced by the Locke family are all building to a climax. The illustrations perfectly reflect the overall feel of the book.
As I was reading Keys to the Kingdom, I was not enjoying it as much as the first 3. It felt plot heavy for the first 2/3's. But when I finished it, I totally understood what Hill was doing. He purposely ropes you into complacency thinking that nothing new is going to happen and then...BAM!...everything we knew and counted on is changed...for the worse. It was brilliant and shocking. This is horror storytelling at its best. I loved it.
I cannot stress enough how much darker the series has become. Yes, it has always been a horror series, but you always felt that good would win out in the end. After Keys to the Kingdom, I am not so sure about that anymore. For me, this is fine. It actually will add to my enjoyment as I continue to read the series, but for some readers, it may be a bit too much to take.
Three Words That Describe This Book: dark, compelling, unsettling
Readalikes: Specifically for Joe Hill, I suggest the following in the new book:
Fans of Hill’s writing who want to read more may also enjoy the horror novels of Jonathan Maberry, Stephen King, and Peter Straub, who are also highlighted in this chapter. These horror authors all write character centered horror that is rooted in the reader’s real-life experiences. The chilling suspense of Tom Piccirilli is also a great choice for Hill readers. Piccirilli began as a horror writer and has continued to keep a supernatural element in his works. Like Hill, Piccirilli has flawed but sympathetic protagonists, placed in frightening situations, with modern details. Another whole collection option for Hill fans is the psychological suspense of Peter Abrahams. Like Hill, Abrahams excels at leading his protagonist into a bad situation, while readers squirm as they watch it all spin out of control. The ultimate question with both of these authors is whether or not the protagonist will make it out alive. It is important to note here that both Piccirilli and Abrahams are NOT horror authors, but they would still greatly appeal to fans of Hill.In my review of the 3rd book, Crown of Shadows I said:
The graphic novels of Hill's father's Dark Tower books make for a good suggestion here. Also anything by Neil Gaiman from Sandman to The Graveyard Book (and everything in between) would work for fans of the Lock and Key Series. Also try Alan Moore and Frank Miller in graphic novels, and Bentley Little, Robert McCammon, or Peter Straub in novels.
I would also suggest the new graphic novel series, American Vampire by Scott Snyder, Stephen King and Rafael Albuquereque (which I will review in a few days), Jonathan Maberry's Pine Deep Trilogy, or Leopoldo Gout's Ghost Radio. All three of these suggestions are original horror stories which push at the edges of horror conventions to extremely successful results.For more graphic novel options that are original, dark, and compelling, I would also suggest that you try the Chew series of graphic novels which follow Tony Chu, a detective with the power to receive psychic impressions from whatever he eats or the Y Last Man series of gns by Brian K. Vaughan set in a time when a plague of unknown origin kills every mammal with a Y chromosome, Yorick Brown discovers that he is the only male left and embarks on a transcontinental journey to discover why.