The return to Indian Lake
The midsection of any slasher franchise worth its salt is always the meatiest playground. From throwing out potential convoluted twists in character motivation to outlandish villain identities and connections, the midpoint may at first appear insurmountable, but the payoff and lead into the grand slasher finale is always worth the journey when done well.
Don’t Fear the Reaper is the hearty center of Stephen Graham Jones’ Indian Lake trilogy and follow up to My Heart is A Chainsaw. Reaper picks up some time after Chainsaw sees Jade shipped away to face time for the events of that fateful blood-soaked night on the docks. The town of Proofrock is still struggling to cope with the destruction and scars — both physical and emotional — left behind from that cruel July. They can hardly believe their ill fortune when teenage bodies begin falling once more. A new spectre haunts, and there’s more than one threat stalking Proofrock’s inhabitants.
Reaper once again shows Jones flexing his love for the genre at full strength. We grow closer to the characters we knew and loved in Chainsaw, and meet a whole slew of fresh blood with their own theories, motives, and grudges for the fate of the town and its people. Jade’s return and, consequently, her internal struggle with who she wants to be, who she thinks she is or should be, and her full truth reasserts her as one of the best Final Girls in fiction.
The Jade of Reaper is much more openly vulnerable, alternately reckoning with her losses and imagined position within the scope of Proofrock’s desperation and lifting up those she believes are strong enough to save it. We, of course, know that Jade’s open, defiant heart is what makes her perfect Final Girl material no matter what she thinks, even more than her trademark encyclopedic knowledge of the slasher genre. Unmooring her in the knowledge department in particular (time and media output pause for no one) works uniquely well in Reaper to peel back the longstanding defensive layer and reveal Jade’s deeper truth both to us as readers and — more importantly — to herself.
The greatest joy of reading Stephen Graham Jones is his evident love for the work and the genre and his fearless ability to marry the violence and lightly magical atmosphere of a slasher with the mundane cruelty of the real world, preferring to prove the way things we can’t explain enrich the world around us, even at the cost of blood. More importantly, he understands the heart of horror even at its most convoluted and wild is about connection in times of struggle and despair, and the value of letting the strength of that connection carry us through.
I said it with Chainsaw and it deserves repeating with Reaper: Jade is the kind of Final Girl I didn’t even know I was longing for, and watching her grow through the Indian Lake trilogy feels like a rare gift. I can’t wait to see where she leads us next.
Don’t Fear the Reaper comes to shelves near you February 7, 2023 from Gallery Books/Saga Press. I would like to thank NetGalley and the publisher for the opportunity to receive an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.