At the beginning of November, I challenged myself to spend the entire month reading books I would enjoy. So far, so good. On Monday I reviewed Crossed by Ally Condie, which I really enjoyed but couldn’t quite put my finger on why. I don’t have that problem with today’s review subject. I am well aware of what I liked about Locke & Key: Head Games – EVERYTHING.
Back in July I reviewed the first volume, Welcome to Lovecraft, and found myself flailing on an airplane after it ended because I needed more. I couldn’t imagine how anything could live up to the dark wonder that was that first volume, but somehow Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez not only lived up to the first volume, but far exceeded it. I now want to spend all my time being an evangelist for this series.
Giant Monster Spoilers for Volume 1: Welcome to Lovecraft ahead
I mean, seriously, I’m spoiling the big giant surprise at the end of volume 1 that left me flabbergasted on an airplane. It's the very next paragraph.
So remember Echo, the creeptastic girl in the well (mentioned more in my review of the television pilot)? Who climbed out and escaped only to return as Zach, Tyler’s new BFF who is also a boy? Who just so happened to have been Tyler’s dad’s BFF 25 years earlier when he went by the name of Luke? Yeah, total mindfuck. I honestly think that’s the biggest “WTF?!” moment I’ve had reading this year and I mean that in a good way. Anyway, that one “small” reveal at the end of Welcome to Lovecraft sets up the entire second volume.
Head Games opens with a seemingly non sequitar story of a teacher at the kids’ school, who had been working there for decades, including when the Locke kids’ father went to school there. When he sees a kid that looks eerily like someone he taught over two decades prior, the old man understandably freaks out. This leads to some background story for Echo/Luke/Dodge/Zach’s previous life, a sense of the extent that mystery follows him around and quite a bit of bloodshed.
Then we move on to the Locke kids, picking up a few months after the events of the previous volume. Bode is still precocious and obsessed with the strange keys hidden around the house. Tyler is still pensive, but working through his grief. And Kinsey is falling apart at the seams, wanting to forget how to both cry and fear. When Bode finds a key that doesn’t fit in any lock in the house, he discovers a keyhole embedded in the back of his neck. Insert key, open up head, stick things in, take things out. There are all sorts of possibilities! It’s most freaky form of osmosis that I have ever seen and the key passes through multiple heads before the story is done.
What the inside of Bode's head looks like
The entire story revolves around Zach’s cleanup mission – his need to wipe his previous existence as Luke from everyone’s mind. Even the Locke kids are ancillary to Zach’s mission. He uses everything and everyone he can to achieve his objectives, all the while this giant mystery of his origin, his abilities and his original objective float around him unanswered. He is incredibly compelling as a character even though he’s mostly a blank slate. I think I could read about him all day even if he is stealing guns from police evidence lockers and threatening to kill people.
I’m kind of in love with Joe Hill right now. He is twisted in all the best ways. Somehow he created, with the help of illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez, a bad guy that is appealing and kind of awesome yet completely mental and scary. I believed that Tyler and Kinsey would be friends with this boy. He’s pretty cool and only comes across as creepy when he’s digging around inside your head to make you forget things or pointing a gun at you. And he digs around in quite a few heads in an attempt to clear out any memories of his prior self. But above all, Hill doesn’t fall in the trap that so many authors do – having characters that fall out of the time stream for some reason or another suddenly be up-to-date on technology. Zach has to get help from his coerced accomplice to send an email and he doesn’t know much about how cops collect forensic evidence now, so he’s left himself open to discovery. He’s been stuck in that well for over twenty years; oh course he doesn’t know how to use Outlook.
This book is haunting, gorgeous and really creepy, but there are also pages that made me laugh out loud, partly because of the absurdity of what was happening but also because the characters are so real. Bode sounds and acts like a little boy, so he says and does very random silly things. For example, in his demonstration of what the “Head Key” can do, he stuffs a cookbook in his head and precedes to recite the ingredient list and instructions on how to make alfredo sauce even after his siblings have moved on to other things. I wish I could find a scan of that page because it’s hard to describe the subtle comic genius.
Rodriguez’s art is brilliant, vivid and delightful, which is a strange word to describe something so creepy but no less accurate. Through his work, the world of the Locke family becomes real and the characters emotions come off as natural rather than overdone or comical. Body language is natural and so many things are enforced by the art rather than just words – the depression of the kids’ mother, Kinsey’s pain and need to forget, Zach’s resolute nature and the occasional instance when he changes his mind. His art is so consistent that you can even see the family resemblance between the siblings as well as their parents yet they are all distinctively different people.
I found myself a little preoccupied in figuring out how Echo the creepy girl in the well became Zach while reading most of the book, but it never hindered my enjoyment. The twist from the previous book was just so impactful that I couldn’t help but obsess over even it three months later. The "how" is explained in the end, though not in direct correlation to Zach/Echo. This is the only thing I can think to complain about with this book, that’s how good it is.
There isn’t a huge WTF twist in Head Games, but the final few pages do set up an interesting premise for the next storyline. This is absolutely not for children. It is violent and disturbing. There is bloodshed, weapons, and implied sexual content. It’s a beautiful dark faerie tale of a horror story and I wish it had gone on for hundreds of pages more. Thankfully there is a volume 3. I cannot recommend this enough.
Read. This. Series.
Horror story with the feel of a faerie tale; compelling, interesting and realistic characters, including children; perfect combination of gorgeous art and fascinating writing