SPOILERS BELOW FOR STRANGER THINGS SEASON 2
From this juggernaut, it didn't take long for an expanded universe to take hold. This is where Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town comes in. Starting at the end of season 2 and quickly jumping into events long before season 1, the book works to flesh out the backstory of one of the show's most popular characters: Jim Hopper.
Stepping back for a moment, Stranger Things focuses on the small town of Hawkins, Indiana, where supernatural events begin to occur, leading to monster fights, telepathic children, and a major government conspiracy. At the foreground of all of this is Jim Hopper, the town's chief of police - one of several characters pulled into the mystery surrounding Hawkins.
Darkness on the Edge of Town picks up after the events of season 2. This review will contain major spoilers for season 2, so stop here if you haven't seen it yet. The book opens shortly after Christmas day. Hopper and his newly adopted daughter Eleven are trapped inside their home during a snowstorm, and, at Eleven's prompting, Hopper decides to tell her a little more about his mysterious past - specifically about his days as a Homicide Detective working in New York City during the blackout of '77. In the past, Detective Hopper and his partner Detective Delgado track a mysterious gang known as the Vipers and a ritual serial killer they believe to be connected to the group.
Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town walks a dangerous line as a tie-in to Stranger Things. The book takes us out of the 1980s era that the show is so comfortable in and lacks most of the main cast. Another element the book has to juggle is its approach to the paranormal, with the brunt of its action taking place before Hopper's discovery of supernatural forces. How the book handles this I won't say explicitly, but it does come up with a clever answer.
Overall, the book succeeds in this tightrope act. The choice to follow Hopper is a wise one; he has a shady past and his gruff, roguish approach to fighting evil makes him the perfect fit for what is ultimately a crime thriller.
Detective Delgado fits right into the Strange Things universe, and the mystery surrounding the Vipers is intriguing without getting bogged down with too many twists and turns. The only portion of the book that drags is when Hopper goes undercover for a half dozen chapters or so. The section isn't boring exactly, but I felt the pace had been so efficient up until that point that I didn't want things to grind to a halt so Hopper could discover information I'd already inferred. That being said, once those chapters are over, the book picks right back up for the exciting conclusion.
Readers will either love or hate the interludes revolving around Hopper and Eleven. Hopper pauses his retelling at several points so Eleven can voice her opinions on the story. They're harmless enough and usually only last a page or two, but there were some moments where I found them slowing down the action or telling me information I would've preferred to discover naturally throughout the story.
The writing itself is tight. The first chapters suffer from some repetitive word choice and phrases, but these can be chalked up to the author getting a feel for the world he’s writing in. Once the meat of the investigation begins (about five chapters in, give or take), most of my issues with prose die away.
Stranger Things: Darkness on the Edge of Town isn't a standalone book. You'd certainly be able to follow the story without having watched Stranger Things, but the interludes with Eleven would most likely prove a greater issue for someone unfamiliar with her character. That being said, as a tie-in to the universe, the book is a great fit. I'd argue that this book is imperative if, like myself, Hopper is your favorite character and you want a more informed view on his actions.
If you're a fan of Stranger Things, and especially the character of Hopper, I would absolutely recommend Darkness on the Edge of Town. It's a startlingly fast read for a 400+-page book, and it scratched that Stranger Things itch I'd had ever since season 3's teaser trailer was released several months ago.
Creative Team: Adam Christopher (Author)
Publisher: Del Rey Books
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