Kate’s Review: “Don’t Fear the Reaper”

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Book: “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Stephen Graham Jones

Publishing Info: Gallery/Saga Press, February 2023

Where Did I Get This Book: I received and eARC from NetGalley.

Where You Can Get This Book: WorldCat | Amazon | Indiebound

Book Description: December 12th, 2019, Jade returns to the rural lake town of Proofrock the same day as convicted Indigenous serial killer Dark Mill South escapes into town to complete his revenge killings, in this riveting sequel to My Heart Is a Chainsaw from New York Times bestselling author, Stephen Graham Jones.

Four years after her tumultuous senior year, Jade Daniels is released from prison right before Christmas when her conviction is overturned. But life beyond bars takes a dangerous turn as soon as she returns to Proofrock. Convicted Serial Killer, Dark Mill South, seeking revenge for thirty-eight Dakota men hanged in 1862, escapes from his prison transfer due to a blizzard, just outside of Proofrock, Idaho.

Dark Mill South’s Reunion Tour began on December 12th, 2019, a Thursday.

Thirty-six hours and twenty bodies later, on Friday the 13th, it would be over.

Review: Thank you to NetGalley for providing me with an eARC of this novel!

Let me tell you what kind of a human disaster I am. I get so hyped about things that I love, or things that I’m really excited about. But then I get almost bogged down in the anticipation, and if I don’t dive in right away (and if there is a long out deadline or no deadline at all, thanks ADHD), I will probably freeze on it, even if I’m looking forward to it. Enter “Don’t Fear the Reaper” by Stephen Graham Jones, the second book in his Lake Witch Trilogy. I loved “My Heart Is a Chainsaw”, the slasher love letter that had the lovely, funny, and plucky but somewhat tragic Jade Daniels as a protagonist. It was a top 3 read for me in 2021. So when I was approved for “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, I celebrated, overjoyed that I got it…. And then it sat on my Kindle for months. I was so excited I just froze up. I was just so excited I didn’t know what to do with myself. But I did eventually get to it. And my horror loving heart was, once again, blown away by how much Stephen Graham Jones knows this genres, and how well he can make it his own while still paying homage to those who came before. Jade Daniels, I missed you. I’m glad you’re back for more.

You’re doing awesome, Jade!

It’s so good to see Jade again. Though she would prefer to be called Jennifer. In “Don’t Fear the Reaper”, Jade has left prison after having her wrongful conviction in the wake of the “Independence Day Massacre” overturned, and is coming home just wanting to survive and put all of that behind her. Including her love for slashers and the genre. A downtrodden final girl returning in movie two is pretty standard (Sidney Prescott went full morose quasi-Goth for “Scream 2”, after all), and Jade/Jennifer has every reason to be weary given that the system failed her and she’s untrusted by most. Seeing Jade/Jennifer try to suppress her vast knowledge and, in some ways, nature is heartbreaking, and watching her gain more confidence in her knowledge, ability, and destiny is a really satisfying journey for her. And it’s a hoot watching her reunite with Letha, the girl she though was the final girl in “My Heart is a Chainsaw”, and seeing how she, too, has become a horror movie expert in hopes of staying alive. The way they play off each other with this shared passion and knowledge is a treat, and watching them try to piece together their situation as well as the slasher at hand is fun as well as suspenseful. And seeing Letha again, now as a resilient albeit traumatized young mother, was also wonderful. I’m so glad she and Jade/Jennifer got to properly team up.

I could rave about Jade/Jennifer and her amazingness for days. But I also really want to talk about our primary antagonist this time around Dark Mill South. What a perfect idea for a slasher villain (with a little bit of a point to his rage). The origin of his motive, the Dakota 38 Execution on Boxing Day in Mankato, Minnesota in 1862, is a horrific moment in Minnesota history, and as someone who worked at the historic site Fort Snelling (which served as a prison and the site of a concentration camp for 1000+ Dakota, mostly women, children, and the elderly in the aftermath of the US-Dakota War), I was quite familiar with this moment. I used to teach it to visitors who would come to the Fort, and was almost always saddened/incensed to see that most people were more interested in watching the musket and cannon drills than grappling with some very dark and complex history. I think that for Dark Mill South to be enraged because of this event, and to be revenge killing in the name of it, was a very good literary choice. Lord knows there have been slasher killers who have a point in their rage, that can spill over into a gory conclusion for bystanders, and Dark Mill South feels a lot like that. It adds weight and subverts this ‘he’s not wrong he’s just an asshole’ trope you see in some slasher killers (Jason Voorhees being my favorite of this subtype). [And if you want more information about the Dakota 38 + 2 and the U.S. Dakota War, the Minnesota Historical Society has some pretty good info, as does Indian Country Today, as does an article about an annual ride to commemorate the prisoners from Minnesota Public Radio. Please read about it. Don’t be like the indifferent visitors I saw every shift.]

And finally, Jones’s reverence for the horror genre, specifically slashers, is once again on full display in this book. There is SO much meta-analysis of the genre, so many references, it’s a true feast for fans of all things horror. I loved seeing the chapter titles, I loved the idea of not only Jade but also now Letha looking to the slashers for guidance, I loved seeing some of my favorites mentioned (Hello “Happy Death Day”!) as well as some not as popular films given a shout out. Jones’s love for slashers is infectious. It’s so fun to hunt for the Easter eggs. And we even have a new voice that is deconstructing slasher tropes between certain chapters. The identity is a secret, so no spoilers here. But I liked that Jones found a way to do it again, even with Jade/Jennifer out of commission. Oh, and there is still a lot of horror movie-esque gore to be had on these pages.

This was well worth the wait. “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is a complex and gory sequel to a complex and gory predecessor, and I now wait on pins and needles to see how Jones brings it all together in the final installment. Long live Jade.

Rating 9: A riveting, scary, and emotional horror tale that both pays homage to and re-writes the rules of slasher stories, “Don’t Fear the Reaper” is a much welcomed return to Proofrock, Idaho, and a wonderful reunion with Jade.

Reader’s Advisory:

“Don’t Fear the Reaper” is included on the Goodreads lists “Slasher Horror Books”, and “Book Riot 2022 #19: Read A Horror Novel by a BIPOC Author”.

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