The Tie-Ins That Bind: A Nightmare on Elm Street: Protege by Tim Waggoner

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We’re on week 3 of looking at Freddy Krueger and I’m really loving how when even if the books are messy they’re incredible reads. It’s because of the fundamental strength of the series. Freddy forces you to try. There’s a power to his concept. You can’t just do kills.

We’re hitting on a very different book this week. Freddy Krueger is way more a phantom in Protege but he’s still the core of the book. This is a story of a teenager who becomes infected by Freddy and becomes his force in the waking world. As he fights himself, the people around him try in vain to save him. It’s not a classic story with dreams. Most of the kills are in the waking world, a far cry from the norm.

I’m jumping right in on this book because it has such an easy hook to argue. Is a book where the main villain is mostly offscreen still a good example? After all that was a frustration with Dreamspawn for many. Freddy is underused in it. Here he’s even more spectral. He doesn’t really do much killing aside from the beginning. But I’m still going to argue this fits what I was craving.

See to me a Nightmare book is a story of suburbia broken. More than any other slasher, Freddy exists in a modern American world. A Nightmare story might be surreal but it’s grounded in the world of strip malls and high schools. It’s a world where everything is on the surface boring and normal. That’s the atmosphere. That Freddy exists in the surreal is the terrifying contrast.

This book delivers that in full. This is one hell of a slasher story mostly because Tim Waggoner, whose credentials in slasher tie-ins go so far as to next Tuesday’s Halloween Kills novelization, nails that atmosphere. This is a grimy exploitation story set in a world of video stores and gas stations, not the backwoods. There’s a profound wrongness to the killings happening here. It captures the paranoia that develops when you’re aware of how broken life is.

It helps that Waggoner makes you like the characters. The protagonist is desperate to get free of his demons which are literal in this case. The people around him care. You like his friends and family. This isn’t a book where everyone is awful. I say this a lot reviewing these books but if I like the characters, I’m far more worried about their fates. There are characters who die in this that hurt.

I also can’t ignore this is a run at the Freddy’s Revenge experimental horror. It lacks the homoerotic overtones of that and that alone makes it inferior, but it’s an interesting riff on the mythos. We’ll et more conventional in the final 2 books but if this deviates, at least it’s in line with the series.

This is a really damn good book. Read it here.

Next time: a direct sequel in Perchance to Dream

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