For whatever reason, the name Krampus: The Yule Lord, plus the mysterious one-named author Brom, reminds me of Dracula. The resemblance to Bram Stoker, perhaps? The Yule Lord seeming like a direct relation to the Lord of Darkness? I'm not sure, and Krampus does not actually attempt to envision itself as an offshoot as Dracula at all.
That's a good thing, though. Krampus, a dark fairy tale about Santa's battle with the Yule Lord from centuries past, is less about infusing a sense of horror than it is focused on a battle of two ancient beings over one holiday, and then pointing out how sometimes times change and it's necessary to understand when a need for something comes to an end.
Brom's story is dark, and that's not because it's set in a world that harbors both a goat-horned devil imp named Krampus and Santa Claus, but because it's set in Boone County. Jesse has got a lot of crap dumped in his life at the outset of the novel - he's lost his wife Linda and his daughter Abigail to a corrupt cop named Dillard, he's used up most of his money playing guitar at dead-end bars, and he's been roped into drugrunning after doing a couple of jobs with the General. Overall, it's not a good time for Jesse, even on Christmas. But after a surprise fight between Santa and a few strange-looking devil men, Jesse finds a magic sack in his trailer, bound to cause him both good and bad luck.
Krampus, an ancient goat man chained in a cave by Santa after Santa began the Christmas tradition, has been yearning to get his hands on the sack for as long as he can remember. He wants to take Yuletide back and oust Christmas, and he wants revenge on Santa. Krampus finds Jesse with the bag, and now Jesse's life goes from bad to even worse.
Brom spends a good amount of time discussing the mythical origins of Krampus and Santa; they're well researched, and it's interesting that the majority of the novel decides to side with Krampus, even putting Jesse under the goat man's spell for a while. It would seem appropriate for the holiday that Santa be the good guy, while Krampus is the one trying to make evil merriment in the world. But Brom doesn't really make one character more evil than the other - they both have major flaws, and the battle is not about who is the better spokesperson for Christmas, but who is necessary at this time. Is it Krampus, who scares young children into remembering their Yuletide traditions, or is it Santa, who spreads goodness and cheer throughout the world?
The ensuing novel is about this struggle - both are right in their own ways, and it makes for a difficult decision for the reader who to side with. The conclusion doesn't necessarily give a clear victor, either - and that's surprising for a novel, because Krampus' main plot doesn't resolve as cut-and-dry as it could have.
Brom also gives Jesse his own problems; he has to help Krampus, but he wants to deal with Dillard as well, who he knows is a rotten man but he can't get his ex-wife Linda to listen to him. The struggle within Jesse is relatable as well; he doesn't realize his own potential until after he loses his humanity, something that Krampus helps him to understand.
The good bits in Krampus do require a bit of expositional wading, however; Brom has a tendency to throw everything on the page via character dialogue and let the reader devour it all at once, which doesn't work as well when the ideas are meant for more implied meanings rather than having the themes explicitly stated. And Brom's prose does falter now and then - he has a tendency towards run-on sentences, some that were not caught by the editor.
Yet Krampus is a holiday treat, a dark fantasy novel for Christmas that's so refreshingly different from holiday romance books that it's easy to overlook the small flaws. The war between Santa and Krampus is engaging because there's no easy stance to take between the two; it's really up to the reader to decide which mythical being is better suited. Should you herald the coming of spring in Yuletide and appease Krampus, or should you celebrate the goodness of humanity with Santa? The battle will always rage, according to Brom, but Krampus: The Yule Lord tries to set the record straight.