Revisited: Hemlock Grove, A Review of the Book that Inspired the Hit Series
With season two of the hit Netflix television series Hemlock Grove premiering next week, it seems a perfect time to revisit the novel that started it all. I loved the first season of the television series and as soon as I heard that it was based on a book, I knew I had to read it.
“God doesn’t want you to be happy, He wants you to be strong.”
The Hemlock Grove television series is true to the book. Likely because McGreevy wrote and developed much of it. Usually with adaptations, the biggest complaint is that so much is left out. Surprisingly, the television series expanded the plot, adding subplots and details not found in the novel. For instance, in the episode “Catabasis,” we see what Roman is experiencing in his coma led by his guide, Shelley. This is something that we never saw in the book and a scene that did much to expand on Roman’s character. I also think I would have been very disappointed with the ending of the book if I hadn’t seen the television series first. The book ends beautifully, but leaves many loose ends dangling. The series took those loose ends and tied them in a noose in a shocker ending that left rabid viewers hungry for season two.
The Hemlock Grove of the book is familiar to those who have seen the show, and yet it is darker, and more fantastic. It is not a typical small town, but a place of monsters and magic, mad scientists and werewolves, and even a girl with giant cubes filled with potting soil for shoes. McGreevy revisits the classic movie monsters that horror fans know and love and revamps them. The vampires and werewolves of Hemlock Grove are unique to this story while still paying tribute to the legends that preceded this novel. McGreevy crafts his world with beautiful, Gothic language that wraps around the reader like vines, pulling us in on page one and never letting go. This is a far cry from the slower pace of the television show.
An omniscient first person narrator takes us a layer further, into the complex minds of the characters. The narrator voice is a cross between Stephen King and the Brothers Grimm. The narrator speaks directly to the reader early on, letting us know that they are the killer though this Vargulf is careful to not reveal its name until the end.
While all of the characters are unique and interesting, Shelly, a modern-day Frankenstein’s monster, stands out. Despite her monstrous appearance and intimidating height, she is the purest soul. Her uncle Norman tells her,
“You’re a lamp…You shine on people and you’re either going to show what’s best in them or what’s the most crummy….that’s your tragedy, and nothing breaks my heart more: you’re always going to be surrounded by people who don’t deserve you.”
While Shelly is physically flawed, the rest of the characters are emotionally and mentally flawed. I found that I loved these characters despite their darkness—particularly Roman and Peter, this mismatched pair of high school boys on the hunt for the vargulf, a crazed werewolf they believe is preying on their town.
Hemlock Grove is a breath of fresh air for the horror genre, which has become stale in the wake of the tween vampire and werewolf craze but I fell in love with this book, not for what it has to say about monsters but, for what the monsters have to say about people.
An enchanting dark fairy tale for grown-ups and one of my new-found favorites.
Catch up on the novel before season 2 of the series airs on July 11. You can find Hemlock Grove on Goodreads.