Book Review: Hemlock Grove

Hemlock Grove: A NovelHemlock Grove: A Novel by Brian McGreevy

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

All right, let me get one thing out of the way: Yes, I read this book because of the Netflix series. I have a sick compulsion to read books that movies or television shows are based on so I can understand the source material and supposedly have a greater appreciation for the adaptation. Note the use of the word “supposedly.”

Now for a second disclosure: I have not finished watching the Netflix series yet. I’m about halfway through it at the time of this writing. While the Netflix show seems relatively faithful to the source material…well, that’s not necessarily a good thing. I’ve delayed writing this review because I’ve had trouble figuring out a nice way to describe how much I disliked this book (for example, I was going to mention how this book is on par with Twilight but with homosexual undertones, but saying this book has undertones would be giving it too much credit for subtlety). I wouldn’t go so far as to simply rewrite Roger Ebert’s infamous review of “North,” but this book is still pretty bad.

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy primarily follows Peter Rumancek, a Gypsy teenager who has recently moved to the town of Hemlock Grove (and the novel’s resident werewolf) and meets rich kid Roman Godfrey, who Peter identifies as an upir. While there’s no direct explanation what an upir is until the end, it doesn’t take much work to figure it out. After some gruesome murders of local teenage girls, the two decide that it’s up to them to find out who is responsible. Why them and not the police? Because we wouldn’t have much of a story then, would we?

This where things begin to fall apart and fast. These two teenagers are actually stupid enough to think that it’s up to them to solve these murders. Aside from the supernatural element that they detect, why them? It doesn’t help that these characters are never made out to be smart in any other respect. Roman is a pompous, self-centered rich kid and the only person he cares about other than himself is his sister, Shelley, who has her own mysteries, and his cousin Letha, to a lesser extent. Peter has some street smarts. Some. But he doesn’t have much else other than his werewolf sense powers.

A big problem with this novel is that it doesn’t take much work to figure anything out. The references to classic monsters of horror are numerous, and pretty much slap you in the face (Shelley is a blatant reference to Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein). While I am ragging on it, this is probably the most clever part of the book. The author also drenches the prose in symbolism. You can’t get away from it, but it doesn’t add anything to the book. It adds no mystery, and is nothing but a distraction without any real payoff. It becomes obvious very quickly who the killer is. As for other side stories, these don’t provide much mystery or payoff, either.

Now, I’ve seen mysteries that aren’t really mysteries before, and these tend to be used as character vehicles, so while we don’t get attached to the story, we still want to follow the characters. But with Hemlock Grove, I didn’t want to follow the characters, either. They’re just so stupid and unlikable. Roman is a spoiled rich brat, Peter is rather two-dimensional, Olivia Godfrey is just a nasty control-freak, Letha is a ditz, and Dr. Pryce (guess who he’s a reference to) is a creep. The most interesting and sympathetic character is Shelley, because she’s the only one that shows any real character development. And she doesn’t even talk.

Overall, Hemlock Grove is a bloody mess. While there are a couple of minor elements that could be called clever, the characters and story are so dumb and predictable that I would have to say this book should be skipped. Don’t fall prey to my problem. You don’t need (or should even want) to read the source material if you’re only interested in the Netflix series. Move along, and avoid this one.

Hemlock Grove by Brian McGreevy earns 1 Ouroboros out of 5.

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