The body of a young girl is found mangled and murdered in the woods of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, in the shadow of the abandoned Godfrey Steel mill. A manhunt ensues—though the authorities aren’t sure if it’s a man they should be looking for.
Some suspect an escapee from the White Tower, a foreboding biotech facility owned by the Godfrey family—their personal fortune and the local economy having moved on from Pittsburgh steel—where, if rumors are true, biological experiments of the most unethical kind take place. Others turn to Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy trailer-trash kid who has told impressionable high school classmates that he’s a werewolf. Or perhaps it’s Roman, the son of the late JR Godfrey, who rules the adolescent social scene with the casual arrogance of a cold-blooded aristocrat, his superior status unquestioned despite his decidedly freakish sister, Shelley, whose monstrous medical conditions belie a sweet intelligence, and his otherworldly control freak of a mother, Olivia. (from Goodreads)
I love vampires and werewolves and whatnot, but I tend to like them scary and brutal rather than romantic and cuddly. Hemlock Grove gives me the scary with a small side of cuddly, and it worked out really well. The whole book has this balance between fresh and old fashioned– like if pre-1980s horror movies were redone for a modern audience.1
My favorite part about Hemlock Grove was the atmosphere. It’d be a perfect Halloween read2: it’s creepy and vaguely threatening, and the paranormal elements just ramp that up into something fantastic. It’s a proper horror novel, with gore and unease and monsters running around causing havoc. Fun! (And creepy. It’s a good mix.)
One of the most fun things about Hemlock Grove is all the references to older monster stories. For instance, probably the most obvious reference is Shelley, a Frankenstein’s monster with more intelligence than anyone else in the entire book. There’s tons more, though, including things I didn’t catch the first time around because they’re either in Latin or they’re chapter titles3, but would make for a great literary hide-and-seek game if you’re so inclined.
My least favorite thing, though? The ending. An event happens that I did not like AT ALL. I suppose it fits with the rest of the story– tragedy and despair and, well, monstrous things– but at the same time it almost felt like it was in there just to be one more shocking thing, or to give the male protagonists more edge in their stories (like they aren’t edgy enough). It was a total woman in refrigerator moment, basically, and I hated it. Just. Ugh.4
However, considering the fact that this is supposed to be the start of a series and also that there’s paranormal creatures, I suppose that there’s hope for a zombie or something to “fix” things. Either way, and despite that ending, I still enjoyed reading Hemlock Grove. Bring on the monsters!
Read: August 14, 2013
There’s a TV show version on Netflix that’s supposed to be pretty good. Have any of you seen it?
- And since the author apparently got most of his inspiration from old monster movies, this makes total sense! ↩
- in case you RIP-ers needed more recommendations ↩
- I don’t pay much attention to chapter titles. Who does? ↩
- Also, MAJOR SPOILERS, but by the end most of the major female characters are dead. WHY. ↩