fantasy and science fiction book reviewsLocke and Key (Vol 3): Crown of Shadows by Joe Hill (writer) and Gabriel Rodriguez (artist)

LOCKE AND KEY CROWN OF SHADOWSToil and trouble; the cauldron begins to bubble.

(May contain spoilers of earlier volumes.)

In Crown of Shadows, the third volume in Locke and Key, written by Joe Hill and drawn by Gabriel Rodriguez, the simmering sense of doom we encountered in Volume Two comes to a boil. More keys are found. More truths are revealed to the reader, and where truths are not uncovered, clues are dropped. Choices the characters made earlier in the narrative begin to have consequences.

Because he has the Anywhere Key, Luke Caravaggio, the thing that was released from the well-house in the first book, wanders Keyhouse at will, mostly while the unsuspecting Locke family is asleep. Luke is clearly searching for something beside the key to the black door, but we don’t know what… yet. I assumed, in the first two volumes, that Luke was something like a powerful and malignant ghost, but in the first section of Crown Of Shadows, when Luke uses the Ghost Key and tries to get the spirit of mass murderer Sam Lesser to help him, I couldn’t help but notice that “ghost” Luke had something attached to its spine. Sam notices it too. When he asks Luke about the thing on his back, Luke gives an evasive answer. He calls it, “Another kind of key.”

locke & key crown of shadows 3“It’s the key to unlocking perfect happiness. Once upon a time I was such an unhappy person, but I’m all better now. I’m never sad or lonely, not anymore.”

Even if we hadn’t seen Luke murder three people and torture another, that would still be creepy, and Sam sees through it. There isn’t anything Sam can do, though, and there is very little the mortals in the house can do, because they don’t even realize that Luke is there.

Kinsey is attracted to Luke in his new persona as her brother’s best friend, but she makes two new friends, the outsiders Scot and Jamal. The three of them along with Kinsey’s friend Jackie decide to make a trek to the sea caves underneath the point. Scot has seen the names of Kinsey’s murdered father and several other students carved on the wall in one of the lower caves. When the kids reach that level, they find it’s been flooded. Scot has no way of knowing that Kinsey is completely without fear, so he is shocked when she dives into the water. Kinsey’s fearlessness puts her three friends in danger… but it also, strangely, helps her uncover a way to save them all. And there is a list a names carved on the wall, along with a reference to The Tempest, the play Rendell Locke, Luke Caravaggio, Ellie Whedon and three others starred in their senior year. After the closing night of the play, they came to the caves to celebrate. The caves were the scene of the terrible tragedy that has been mentioned but never explained.

locke & key crown of shadows 2Kinsey’s fearlessness puts her and everyone around her at risk, and the loss of her sadness means she lacks compassion. Her anger at her mother erupts in this book. Nina can feel her world exploding but is unable to stop it. While she is in Provincetown helping her brother in law, Luke unleashes the shadows on the children. This time, Kinsey’s fearlessness helps her save Bode, and a strange lock and key that Bode and Tyler found together gives Tyler the magical strength to recover the crown of shadows and put it in a safe place. He confronts Luke, but Luke is in his female form, and Tyler does not recognize him. The children have put the crown out of harm’s way, and they have avoided harm themselves, but they are still a long way from understanding the truth.

The epilogue “Beyond Repair” focuses on Nina. She and Bode find a key to a neglected old cabinet, one that repairs anything put inside. The imagery of broken dishes in this section resonates through the whole book, reminding us of broken lives, broken bodies and broken hearts. Nina, very drunk, decides to put her husband’s ashes into the cabinet, sure that he will come back to her. The scene that follows is emotionally fraught because Tyler looks so much like his father. This family is not only dealing with scary supernatural forces. Mundane human emotion threatens to break them apart as well.

locke & key crown of shadows 1Rodriquez’s artwork, once again, is powerful, and in this book, because of the name, I was struck by the use of light. On page 79, color provides the narrative, and no words are needed to demonstrate how Kinsey is outwitting a monster. The scenes in the cave, with the use of shadows and the watery backgrounds, are chilling and foreshadowing. In the epilogue, the full-page image of Nina attempting to juggle, on page 130, and its immediate aftermath on page 131, symbolize this whole section of the book. The choice of perspective (we are looking down from above), and Nina’s too-relaxed, casual posture, tell the tale.

It’s nice to see Jamal, Scot and Jackie’s roles enhanced here. A tiny grace note to the story; Luke’s jealous attempt to pull Kinsey away from Scot and Jamal by pointing out that they are losers backfires; Kinsey isn’t afraid of peer pressure because she isn’t afraid of anything. I liked that part.

Crown of Shadows does several things beautifully. It shows us just how serious the problems are. It gives us more information about The Tempest and what might have happened in Rendell Locke’s senior year, and it delivers up clues about the nature of the keys and the crown. There are no character surprises here. What we see is what happens to a fragile family under terrible stress. Dark, beautiful and twisted (not unlike Luke), Crown of Shadows is an excellent entry in the series.


  • Marion Deeds

    Marion Deeds, with us since March, 2011, is the author of the fantasy novella ALUMINUM LEAVES. Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies BEYOND THE STARS, THE WAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE, STRANGE CALIFORNIA, and in Podcastle, The Noyo River Review, Daily Science Fiction and Flash Fiction Online. She’s retired from 35 years in county government, and spends some of her free time volunteering at a second-hand bookstore in her home town.

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