Halloween is right around the corner, which means now is the perfect time to find some new and interesting spooky tales. Some of my favorite spooky stories are those aimed at younger audiences. I love a good horror movie or novel, but so often those stories aimed at adults go into such extreme corners of horror that they just aren’t fun. This isn’t the case with horror stories aimed at younger audiences. These stories rely on creating scary atmospheres and balance their spooks with clever ideas and a sense of fun. This is exactly what the first book of Abby Howard’s webcomic, The Last Halloween, does. The Last Halloween is in the same vein as many classic spooky stories. It balances interesting and unique characters, scares, and a sense of adventure, spinning an atmospheric tale that is as addicting as it is fun. (4.5 out of 5 wands.)
(NOTE: I received an advance copy of this book from the publisher and Edelweiss in exchange for a fair review. All thoughts are my own. Additionally, there may be mild spoilers ahead.)
The Last Halloween: Children by Abby Howard
It’s a lonely Halloween night for ten-year-old Mona. While everyone else is out having a ghoulishly good time, she’s stuck inside without so much as a scary movie to watch. Just when she figures this evening can’t get much worse, a giant monster appears in her living room, proving her very, very wrong. Running for her life, Mona quickly sees that she’s not alone; trick-or-treating’s been canceled due to monster invasion! A barrier keeping billions of monsters at bay has broken and the horrific hordes have descended upon humanity, wreaking bloody havoc everywhere they stomp, slither, or squish. She may not be equipped for it, but it’s up to Mona to save the world with a team of fellow weirdos by her side. Perhaps they will succeed. Or perhaps this will be . . . The Last Halloween.
What would happen if it was suddenly apparent that not only were monsters real, but they wanted to kill most of humanity? This is the question at the heart of The Last Halloween. After narrowly surviving an encounter with monsters, ten-year-old Mona finds herself tasked with finding the one person who can save the world – the son of the Phagocytes, the human tasked with upholding the separation between the human and monster realms. The Phagocyte’s apparent death is what sets these apocalyptic events into motion, though all may not be as it seems. On its surface, it’s a fairly simple plot. Mona and her new friends – vampire Ringley, ghoul Shirley, and living doll Robert – must find the Phagocyte’s heir. Their quest takes them through various locales in the human and monster realms, frequently resulting in scary and dangerous encounters. Along the way, they gradually unravel the twists and turns of what’s actually going on. It’s a rip-roaring adventure that is as addicting as it is fun to read.
The joy of the story isn’t necessarily in exactly what happens, but in the way, it is told. Howard expertly mashes several genres together in the creation of this narrative. There’s the mystery behind who is responsible for setting all of these events into motion, there is the adventure of Mona and her friends trying to save the world, and there is the horror of these children facing off against a variety of terrifying monsters. Somehow, Howard manages to balance all of these elements, combining them into a cohesive and enjoyable whole. It is so well-paced that there is never a dull moment. The exposition is so well delivered that it rarely feels like an expedition dump, and you learn things at the same speed the characters learn them. Howard simply lays her world-building into the fabric of the story in ways that feel very natural. It’s a well-written, well-paced, deeply enjoyable romp through a Gothic landscape and I loved every page of it.
The heart of the story, though, is its characters. Mona is a typical protagonist one might find in these kinds of stories. She is precocious, she’s determined, and she is scared. She’s also deeply relatable. There are times where she doesn’t sound like a ten-year-old, but you don’t care much because you’re wholly invested in her story. The same is true for her friends, all of whom have distinct personalities and voices. Ringley is the Lovable ditz, Robert is the morally gray one you grow to love, and Shirley is the one who initially feels out of place, but eventually clicks into place Together, the group feels like a classic ensemble that could rival the very best found in other similar tales. While the plot of The Last Halloween is devilishly interesting, the characters and their journeys are what I fell in love with most. And they’re what kept me coming back to the book for more.
Howard’s artwork maintains the same balancing act that her writing achieves. Her monster designs are simultaneously creative and scary, with no two monsters looking alike. All of her human characters look and feel distinct. Their looks match their personalities and Howard brings such expression to them that they truly feel alive. The entire graphic novel is presented in black-and-white, which only emphasizes the gothic atmosphere of the story. She ensures that each locale looks different while still appearing to exist in the same world as everything else. Her artwork for the book is so good that even if you’re not in love with the narrative, you’ll want to read it for the artwork. I thoroughly loved Howard’s artwork throughout the whole book. It’s gorgeous atmospheric and greatly elevates the material.
At the end of the day, The Last Halloween: Children is a great read for all ages. It expertly balances its scares and its sense of fun, delivering a thrilling and emotional adventure. The characters are relatable and fun to spend time with, the story is great, and the artwork is atmospheric and beautiful. It’s a fantastic beginning to this story and I’m extremely excited to see where it goes from here. If you’re looking for a new Halloween read look no further. The Last Halloween should satisfy all lovers of horror whether they be old or young and is well worth a read.
(4.5 out of 5 wands.)