Welcome back to the Litcast of Doom vault! We’re digging sort of deep for this one – all the way back to my middle school days. “But wait,” I hear you cry, “that’s a bit far, isn’t it?” Yes, that’s why I also need to mention I reread this in college. And most of it’s burned in my brain, as you’ll soon find out why.
So let’s talk about LORD LOSS by Darren Shan.
Grubbs Grady has stiff red hair and is a little big for his age, which means he can get into R-rated movies. He hates history and loves bacon, rats, and playing tricks on his squeamish older sister. When he opts out of a family weekend trip, he never guesses that he is about to take a terrifying journey into darkness. Hungry demons and howling werewolves haunt his waking nightmares… and threaten his life.
Once again, my “No YA” rule has been canned for the sake of discussing a book that some clearly state is not fit for young adults – or regular adults. If the series title “The Demonata” doesn’t paint a clear picture, this horror novel deals with the occult, loss, despair, and – ultimately – hope.
This was one of my first tastes of horror I could truly understand. You have to realize that I was in middle school when the first novels came out – I borrowed them from my friends and then from my local library when my brain couldn’t escape from the imagery that had been burned into my brain. I’ve actually bought several copies of this book, the first being given away while I was in middle school because my mom found them and threw the biggest goddamn fit I ever saw about “inappropriate books for God-fearing children.”
My Biases: Once again, this book is colored by my memories of childhood; I recognize that in a modern lens, this book might be labeled “problematique” or some variation of that theme. (I’m now also confronted by the idea of LORD LOSS being released today, and the thousands of mood boards people would make of the title character because On God someone would find a 6-armed demon fuckable and now I need to bathe.)
But LORD LOSS, as one of the first horror stories I read as a kid – yes, before I was officially allowed to read Stephen King in high school – taught me the meaning of having hope, and the different ways we can and should pursue to heal. (It also gave me a real fear of the burgundy curtains we had in our bathroom, but that’s a story for a different time.)
The first third of the story is dominated by Grubs Grady, and the horrific loss of his family. As our first-person narrator, we’re with him as he witnesses the carnage of his parents’ and sister’s murders – how his sister is torn up the back to be handled like a puppet, the entrails leaking from his father’s torso, the dismembered body of his mother being manhandled by an inhuman monstrosity. It’s painted vividly and doesn’t exclude the most visceral details, in a way that has never fully left my mind. And then we’re with him as doctor after doctor and nurse after nurse refuses to believe what he saw.
And it’s only after his uncle, Dervish, comes in and says he believes him, that be begins to heal.
Trauma is an ugly animal. It takes on all shapes and sizes to match the people they accompany. Due to this, there are millions of paths to take when it comes to healing – and as long as you’re healing there’s no wrong path to take. (I am, of course, not a trained psychiatrist, but I’m citing my own traumas and the multiple examples from similar stories.)
As grim as this book is, it’s also a story of defiant hope against the odds – as horrible as everything gets, as much death surrounds our characters, they still carry a kernel of hope to light their way through the darkness. And that’s what saves them in the end. If there’s a message to carry from this series, it’s that in face of overwhelming odds, the only thing we can do it make sure that we don’t lose hope.
Which, in this day and age, is a message we should all carry with us.