I’m a little ashamed to admit that I am naturally drawn to the dark side in my reading. I’m not a particularly dark person but I love the literary richness of the Gothic genre. It possibly goes back to my university days when I became acquainted with Mary Shelley. More recently, in the classroom I have had a great deal of fun introducing students to the likes of Neil Gaiman through his film adaptation of his awesome book Coraline (2009). I remember reading somewhere that Neil Gaiman has ‘nearly’ created his own genre in the world of literature. I’m not sure about that, but he does offer something unique. For me it is his distinct perceptibility that enables him to reach into our darkest fears and insecurities that I appreciate most. In many ways Keith Austin’s book Grymm reminded me of this.
Grymm is set in the desert town of the same name. Once a thriving hub for the mining industry, the gold deposits have since dried up, leaving Grymm as a fading ghost town. Jacob and Mina, step-siblings with a distinct lack of appreciation for one another, land in Grymm with their parents and half-baby brother Bryan. From the moment they arrive they have an inkling that things in Grymm are not quite as they first seem. It doesn’t take long before their hunch is confirmed by the sudden disappearance of their baby brother.
The outback desert town Austin has created is darkly mysterious, and every bit as sinister as a Transylvanian-esque village in the European mountains might be. On many levels the town is quite stereotypical; although I did appreciate his hints to the Aboriginal Dreaming and the proliferation of flies that suggested something more Australian. Grymm includes a host of vividly drawn characters, all equally grotesque in their own way. Of particular note was the cross-dressing Maggot (who likes to add maggots to milkshakes), the larger than life baker Fleur, (who may or may not want to add the children to his latest creation), and Real Estate agent Thespa, (a voluminously hideous woman that conceals a heart of gold or possibly a taste for infants?). Also of note was the local butcher Cleaver Flay who was reminiscent of another insane butcher from film history, Clapet from Jeunet and Caro’s French cinematic masterpiece Delicatessen (1991). As with any great Horror/Gothic tale what is needed is the evil antagonist who must act as the Master Puppeteer. This role is taken by the insidious Anhanga, who despite living up to my expectations, was introduced to the story a little too late for my liking.
This is quite a chunky book which for practical purposes will possibly make it a little tricky to use in the classroom as a shared text. However, it is definitely something that I would happily use excerpts of, alongside film as part of a Gothic/Horror unit at grade 9 level. I have already mentioned parallels with this text and many of Gaiman’s titles (especially Coraline (2002) and The Graveyard Book (2008)), however it would pair equally well with, and provide extension for students who enjoyed Lemony Snicket’s A Series of Unfortunate Events (1999-2006) series. It might also be worthwhile having a look at the short novel The Grimstones: Music School (2013) by Asphyxia. Despite being written in language that is widely accessible, some children at the lower end of the Middle Years, may find some of the content a little distressing so I would pitch it to students closer to 14 to be safe.
A vividly drawn Gothic-Horror title with a dash of Steampunk thrown in for good measure. I highly recommend Keith Austin’s Grymm for a delectable read on a dark night. Word of warning. This title is best consumed without food.
Reviewed by Tanya Grech Welden
**The author provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. I have otherwise not been paid for reviewing this book and my opinions reflect my own unbiased opinion.**