It’s a rare occurrence that a horror setting will enthrall me as Kittredge’s Coffin Hill did. In an age of worn out horror tropes, Coffin Hill seductively crooks a skeletal finger. Kittredge’s haunting narrative reminded me of Locke & Key, where the family and the corresponding estate create the epicentre of evil.
Note: there are too many ways to unravel the narrative, even with hints, so this is a spoiler-free review.
The Atmosphere is More Than Creepy: It’s Corrosive
As much as I love Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, I find myself tiring of its repetitiveness. Meet humans, humans bad, defeat humans sometimes, zombies attack, lose someone you love, rinse and repeat. There’s more nuance to it than that, but it’s become staid nonetheless. What I adore about Coffin Hill is how the atmosphere makes my skin prickle. At the beginning, it’s supposed to be all debauchery and light corruption among the elite. But as the story wears on, and we see what becomes of the characters as they delve into the madness of the Coffin Estate, the horror seeps in through the cracks.
As a little kid, my biggest fear was being lost in the woods at night. (It still kind of is.) When the light is snuffed out, the underbrush becomes menacing. A twig cracking could be an animal. It could be a monster. It could be the bogeyman from under the bed come to finish you off. In Coffin Hill, the woods are more than just spooky — they’re malign. There’s witchcraft and foul spirits wandering its foggy paths; unmarked graves litter its invisible underbelly. It’s the terror in the deep that we’ve all had nightmares about. Only this time, in Coffin Hill, it’s all real.
And it is hungry.
Coffin Hill is About More Than Eve Coffin
The protagonist, Eve Coffin, is deeply flawed. She’s the descendant of a long line of Coffin Hill witches and the daughter of privilege and wealth. Eve is a hero rookie cop, but for all the wrong reasons. She skips ahead far too often, using magical methods that would make the rest of us question our sanity. In spite of her attitude and her bloodline, Eve manages to hold onto her humanity. She’s dedicated to uncovering the secrets at the Coffin Estate and in the Coffin Hill forest, in order to save lives and rid the town of the real Coffin Hill witch.
Her mother, Eleanor, is a brooding bat of a woman, whose sardonic disdain drips from every line of dialogue. There’s something deeply unlikable about Eleanor. More than one something, really. Her dedication to keeping her secrets is bizarre, though ultimately altruistic. Eleanor cares deeply for her daughter and for the people she has loved throughout her life. The Coffin Estate has tried hard to corrupt her. She remained steadfast, though bitter and unhappy, and continued to keep the Coffin lineage’s evils locked away for as long as she could.
Every single character in the Coffin Hill story is broken in their own way. Death permeates their interactions with one another. They’re often one foot in madness and the other in exhaustion. But they’re people. They’re multifaceted in their brokenness, shimmering voids of unhappiness and malaise and potential violence. Their motivations and origins may be different from one another, but they all share one thing in common: they’ve been corrupted, in one way or another, by the Coffin family and their curses.
Kittredge’s Sharp Edges Draw Blood
There’s a subtlety to the narrative that I really appreciate. Kittredge’s writing style affords a great deal of interpretation.There’s symbolism hidden in unexpected places, both in the way the art is drawn and in the way the dialogue is written. Unless you’re looking for the finer details, you’ll miss them on your first pass. Kittredge doesn’t stand on ceremony with Coffin Hill: she cuts to the core of the madness as quickly as possible. Her words wrap the reader in a cloak of satin-lined wool in one moment, then leaves us shivering and cold in another.
The backstory of Coffin Hill and the Coffin lineage is as important to the story as Eve herself. It provides context and clues for how to stitch the gaping wound that the long-dead witch mother of the Coffin family has wrought. The story bounces between the earliest days of the Coffin family, to the 1970s, to Eleanor’s trials as a young woman, to pink-haired Eve Coffin in her adolescence, all the way back to the near-present of Eve’s work in the police, and into the present itself. It moves fast and can sometimes be hard to follow.
I adore Kittredge’s sharp wit and the way she wields phrases like little spells unto themselves. She paints her characters with broad strokes, blurs their edges, throws them into despair, and tosses them a weapon, just to see what happens. The narrative itself has thorns and winds so suddenly that it can give a reader cuts and scrapes along the way, especially if they’re not careful to pay attention to where Kittredge is leading them. She knows where the story ends. She’ll take the reader down terrifying paths in the darkness, but the payoff is delicious.
Caitlin Kittredge has created something exquisite with the Coffin Hill series. Coffin Hill’s foundation is built on those moments in the middle of the night where nightmares live and darkness thrives, on the despair and terror that threaten to devour every good feeling. And Coffin Hill is hungry.
(Original Post: The Daily Crate)