by Guillermo del Toro & Daniel Kraus
Recommended Ages: 12+
In the TV show, the hero boy is an Arcadia (Calif.) high school kid named Jim Lake, Jr. who lives with his single mom, has a tubby best friend named Tobey D. (as in Domzalski) and a crush on a Mexican-American girl named Claire Nuñez. In the book, Jim Jr.'s last name is Sturges; he lives in San Bernardino, Calif.; his single parent is his dad; and best friend Tobias Dershowitz (only once called "Tobey D.") is actually nicknamed Tub. Also, Claire is a warrior babe from Scotland. There are tons of other differences, too, but that's just to give you a feel for how much the story changed between book and TV. In the book, the friendly warrior troll ARRRGH!!! is a girl - but otherwise pretty much the same as on TV, her impaired speech explained by the rock embedded in her skull; know-it-all troll Blinky has eight eyes, not six, and hundreds of suckered tentacles, and the eyes are on stalks, so that's quite a different look for him. There's still a history museum and a Killaheed Bridge (not Killahead, but all right), and the reassembly of the bridge does indeed augur the return of the villainous Gunmar the Black, lord of the Gumm-Gumms; and Jim has to learn swordplay in a big hurry in order to save his town from a horde of people-eating trolls. Also, there's an important medallion with runes on it, and a school bully named Steve, and an impending performance of Romeo and Juliet (at least, an abridged version), and an attempt by some horrid creatures to replace a baby with a changeling, and a troll city that one enters via a magical doorway under a bridge; but that about does it for the similarities between the stories. Considering all these superficial similarities, and the fact that this is unmistakably the source material for the animated show, it's really most amazing how entirely different the two stories are.
In this original version, Jim Sturges, Jr. is not the first human boy to become a trollhunter. He is, in fact, recruited by his Uncle Jack, who disappeared 45 years ago at age 13 and is still 13. Meanwhile, Jack's kid brother Jim Sr. has never gotten over seeing his brother abducted by trolls, apparently the last victim of an epidemic of children who disappeared never to be seen again. He has raised Jim Jr. in a suburban fortress with steel shutters on the windows, 10 locks on the front door, and multiple alarm systems. Nevertheless, Jim evades his overprotective dad enough to get the role of Romeo in the halftime play during his high school's big football game. He also struggles to keep up with an eternally-13 uncle whose heroics are fueled by anger about being denied a normal life. Together, with a little help from Blinky, ARRRGH!!! and Tub, they take on an increasingly terrifying series of Gumm-Gumm clans, including trolls that can literally puke up their guts, rust trolls, and a gigantic red scaly monster whose planned takeover of the San Bernardino Valley is fueled by a diet of ground children. Ick.
It's an exciting book that compels you to turn pages from its opening challenge ("You are food") to the climactic battle on the football field. It bears less resemblance to the TV spinoff with each page turn, but you don't mind because it's that thrilling, chilling, funny, just a little romantic, and downright well-written. That's another thing it has in common with the TV version, actually. The characterization is superb. Their dialogue is lively. The emotions motivating the hero ring true, even when the canvas is filled with bizarre and preposterous creatures. While I have no interest whatsoever in the series of novelizations based on the TV episodes, I hereby declare this original book to be legit.
Guillermo del Toro, in case your head has been under a rock for some time, is the co-author (with Chuck Hogan) of the "Strain" trilogy, comprising The Strain, the Fall and The Night Eternal, and the co-author (with Christopher Golden and Troy Nixey) of Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. He is also the director of, among other movies, Blade II, Hellboy and its sequel, Pan's Labyrinth and Pacific Rim. Kraus, whose novel Rotters I vividly recall reading in audio-book form, also wrote the two-book "Death and Life of Zebulon Finch" series (At the Edge of Empire, Empire Decayed), The Monster Variations, Scowler (the other book that I binge-read this past weekend) and, again with del Toro, The Shape of Water - a novel written alongside the film of the same title, which del Toro directed and for which he won last year's Academy Awards for Best Picture and Best Director. I'm kicking myself for not buying that book, but maybe I should watch the movie first.