The Dark Servant (2014) Book Review
A novel by Matt Manochio
Published by Samhain Publishing
Reviewed by Michael Juvinall – Horror Society
Up until the last decade or so, most people here in America hadn’t even heard of Krampus or the mythology behind him. But this ancient creature of Alpine lore has become increasingly well-known in this country due to emerging anti-Christmas festivals in cities around the country that celebrate Krampusnacht on December 5th, the day before the Feast of Saint Nicholas. These Krampusnacht festivals are carried over from European traditions that have made their way over to our shores.
According to legend, Krampus is the companion to Saint Nicholas. On December 6th, Saint Nicholas would reward the good little girls and boys with gifts (Our Santa Claus is a derived from Saint Nicholas). The naughty boys and girls however, would get a visit from Krampus on December 5th night. Krampus would punish the naughty ones with a swatting from his ruten (birch branches made into switches) and more terrifying legends would say the evil children would be thrown into a sack or wooden basket strapped to Krampus’ back to be drowned in a frozen lake or even eaten later.
Krampus is described as a huge hairy creature with cloven hooves (some descriptions say Krampus has one cloven hoof and one human foot) and horns sprouting out of its head like a goat. It is also described to have a long, forked-like tongue like a snake. Krampus carries various accoutrements such as chains that he rattles for ominous effect and the aforementioned ruten which is used to swat children with.
Author Matt Manochio’s novel, The Dark Servant is a Christmas-time horror story in which the Krampus invades our shores – New Jersey, to be specific in order to do the bidding of his master and change the lives of several teenagers forever.
In northern New Jersey, the small town of Hancock is being battered by a severe blizzard. It’s December 5th and the weather is not all this small town will have to deal with on this day. Seventeen-year-old Billy Schweitzer is starting his day off badly. He was just rejected by his dream girl the night before and now is in a depressed funk. To make matters worse, Billy can’t seem to get along with his estranged Dad, town police chief Donald Schwitzer and his older brother who can do no wrong in anyone’s eyes. It’s no wonder Billy just wants to skip school for the day and wallow in self-pity.
Billy’s dad, the chief of police, begins getting reports of local teenagers going missing under bizarre circumstances. There have been several cases of high school kids who have seemingly vanished into thin air. Chief Schwitzer investigates and discovers the same clues at all of the vanishings. There has been destruction around where all the kids have gone missing – smashed vehicles that were not from a car crash, damaged school bleachers and the most curious clue – hoof prints were found at each crime scene. Billy and his dad soon discover, to their horror, that one of the abductees is his own older brother.
Billy does some investigating on his own and thinks he knows why his brother and the others have been abducted and who is behind all of this. He must convince the girl of his dreams whose younger brother has also gone missing and his dad that a legendary creature of European folklore is responsible for the abductions. He must figure out how to rescue the missing kids and defeat the unstoppable force of the Dark Servant before the night’s end.
I have to give author Matt Manochio credit for doing his research on the Krampus folklore because everything he has incorporated into his novel is spot on with all the legends of the creature. I love that he took the time to make his creature historically accurate as possible instead of creating a different backstory for the creature.
The Dark Servant is a really fun thrill ride from beginning to end and Manochio really knows how to create likeable characters and has a writing style that keeps the narrative flowing freely without much down time to get in the way. The only downside is that the finale was a bit anti-climactic for me, as I was hoping for something a little more exciting, but it still has a satisfying ending to an awesome story.
This is a creature feature that most genre fans won’t be able to put down and Matt Manochio has helped to introduce Krampus to American audiences in a thrilling and terrifying way. Krampus is the new Christmas anti-hero that hopefully will be scaring us for years to come. Do yourself a favor and don’t wait until next Christmas season to pick up and read Matt Manochio’s The Dark Servant, you won’t regret it.
4 out of 5 Pentagrams!