The Last Halloween

Author: Christopher Golden

A small, seemingly innocuous neighborhood in Coventry Massachusetts is preparing for a night of delightful frights and chills – a haunted forest, some creepy outfits, and lots of suburban parents handing out candy and telling their kids to say “please” and “thank you.” But beneath the bustling preparations, old and new tensons live. Families harbor dark secrets, children are growing up and discovering the flaws in their parents and their friends, and for many this is the last night to trick-or-treat, the last night to be a kid. It is a night for goodbyes, for moving on. Of course, none of them suspect just how true – and final – those goodbyes will be.

Christopher Golden gives us a large assortment of characters to follow, many of whom are teens on the precipice of adulthood. We have two main child characters, and of course, the adults whose own fractured lives and lies are catching up with them. This tension, in and of itself, plus the nostalgic, gently bittersweet recreation of the excitement of the last moment in childhood keeps the story strong. By the time the monsters show up – and they do – readers have come to care about each of the characters and their hopes and fears. As the children and teens struggle with growing up, we witness the grief of the adults, the dissolution of marriages, the strain of being a good parent. From the children’s perspective, we see the same things, inexplicable and powerful, as well as the liminal fear of growing into adulthood and saying goodbye to life as they have known it.

As the story progresses and the characters face their struggles, strange children begin showing up amid the trick-or-treaters. Kids with old ratty costumes and weird makeup; kids who are terrified and need help. Hide them just until midnight, they beg, so the Cunning Man won’t find them.

As the situation worsens, our characters struggle with the right thing to do, with the growing knowledge that the issues here are hardly natural, with the temptation to flee and live, with the grief of loss and missed opportunities. Soon, broken families must come together again, if only for one night; many have to die. And yes, the main characters are hardly safe.

Image by Seth Metoyer from Pixabay

All Hallows is a story with a lot going on. Normally, this would be overwhelming, so many characters, so many interconnections, so many things falling apart. Yet, somehow, Golden gets away with it and makes us care about and remember every last person here. This becomes devastating later, when the party really gets started and the mysterious children reveal their true nature.

Honestly, the horror aspect, while intriguing, wasn’t as good as the character development and the evocative feeling of the at times (oddly) cozy story. The Cunning Man himself, a seven-foot-tall demonic monster with glowing eyes, is never fully explained. The unearthly children, on the other hand, do get an explanation, and it is a truly creepy one that would have been immersive if we’d spent a little more time on the background, if the revelation had been slow, earned, and given us even more of a glimpse into that grey tinged otherworld.

Nevertheless, by the time the violence starts, we are so invested in the characters that while we aren’t scared, we’re intrigued and intensely worried about what will happen to our people. And we do lose quite a few – even children – in violent and unpredictable ways. In the end, this night is one of terrible farewells that plants deep seeds of grief in our characters and leaves us still connected long after the last page.

– Frances Carden

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Frances Carden
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