It’s been four years in prison since Jade Daniels last saw her hometown of Proofrock, Idaho, the day she took the fall, protecting her friend Letha and her family from incrimination. Since then, her reputation, and the town, have changed dramatically. There’s a lot of unfinished business in Proofrock, from serial killer cultists to the rich trying to buy Western authenticity. But there’s one aspect of Proofrock no one wants to confront…until Jade comes back to town. The curse of the Lake Witch is waiting, and now is the time for the final stand.
I was an immediate fan and champion of Stephen Graham Jones’ My Heart is a Chainsaw, the sly, clever, and unapologetically bloody meta-slasher that felt like it was written just for me. It’s protagonist, Jade Daniels, was a kid I instantly recognized: smart, self-destructive, and hyper-focused on the slasher genre as if it might be able to offer some answers in a world that made little sense. Graham Jones’ writing is smart and so jam packed with allusions to slasher lore that even someone with a lifetime dedication to the genre such as myself sometimes felt as if as if I were taking a master class in filmic mass murder.
My Heart is a Chainsaw was a bit of a whodunnit, wrapped up in slasher trappings, with a little dose of the supernatural to round things out. Maybe. The book’s dedication to Jade’s point of view is so absolute, that these questions become kind of unimportant. The reader understands that Jade’s way of processing endless trauma is the horror movie way, and we’re so immersed in that way of seeing the world that we are happy to go with the flow.
The follow up novel, Don’t Fear the Reaper, is that unimaginable thing: a slasher whose sequel actually surpasses the original. The second book may be a bit more of a baggy monster than the first, with an ever growing rogues gallery and (as the rules of the slasher sequel demand) an astonishingly high body count, but Reaper really excels in using the slasher framework to dig even deeper into Jade’s origin story, creating a character of such depth, and of such poignance, that I can count her as one of my very favorite literary creations.
I love Jade Daniels with my whole battered heart.
The supposed final installment in the Jade Daniels saga (is there ever really a final installment in a slasher franchise?), The Angel of Indian Lake (forthcoming March 2024) unfortunately does not live up to Reaper‘s promise.
There are real and immediate pacing problems, with the first third of the book doing very little beyond establishing Jade’s new situation, which is as the ex-felon high school history teacher in her hometown of Proofrock, Idaho. Beyond its obvious callback to Nancy in Nightmare 3, this is more than a little unbelievable, and Jade’s behavior is so off the rails that we’re hard pressed to buy this conceit. More importantly, it does little to move the story forward.
Of course, the killings begin, but they all come in such a disjointed manner, with no real connection to anything else, that it’s hard to both care and, I’m going to admit it, to even gauge how much of it is “real.”
The already impressive rogues gallery is expanded, and there’s a continued mystery structure that feels both insistent and beside the point, as Jade stumbles from one horror set piece to the next.
These set pieces are often impressive, and the author’s prose is still sharp and allusive, still very much a direct window into the Jade we know and love, but it seems without purpose. Finally, there are just too many cooks (read: killers) in the kitchen, and the plot feels like it gets away from us.
There are zombies rising from the lake, a forest fire, a lake witch, a murderous child that takes peoples heads, a ghost preacher, rampaging bears, a child abduction, scheming Terra Novans, as well as the already well-known crazies from previous installments. Finally, the reader feels hard pressed to say just what the book is about, and there are multiple elements that are set up as mysteries that simply aren’t. Instead, we get lazy reveals for questions we as readers never asked. Worse, some mysteries, such as those surrounding Jade’s new therapist are so lazily telegraphed, that I was left shaking my head.
Now, my love for Jade Daniels is such that I would willingly forgive all of these sins just to spend time with her, to see the world through her unique point of view, and maybe see her grow, but unfortunately, I don’t think there’s much for Jade to do here. There’s some lovely found-family stuff, and the beautiful final pages offer us a vision of Jade that is moving and wonderfully crafted, but in the end, I was left wondering if we needed this story at all.
We already knew that Jade Daniels was both final girl and her mirror image, the unstoppable “Shape,” and that both would keep coming back endlessly for more. The Angel of Indian Lake unfortunately feels like an intricate series of challenges designed only to prove this fact again and again, to the point that it almost feels mean-spirited, as if Jade is there to be damaged more and more deeply again and again.
It’s a testament to the character that I took that a little personally.
In the end, The Angel of Indian Lake feels like a misfire, but that’s also part of the unique power of the slasher franchise, isn’t it? One weak installment doesn’t spoil the experience? We’ll always come back for more?
I know I will. I just hope that next time Jade’s story has a little more purpose and direction. The slasher structure, would do, actually, and that might be the lesson of the Angel of Indian Lake: keep it simple.