On its very first page, Colin Dodds’s THE REIGN OF THE ANTI-SANTAS (A Christmas misadventure for grownups) warns off young readers: “if you’re a child, then stay a child a little longer. Leave this story alone.” The warning is an apt one, as what follows is a no-holds-barred narrative about a very literal war on Christmas—one that rages from the inside.
The narrator is Elvin, a North Pole insider with a one-of-a-kind story: he’s the only elf ever to accompany Santa Claus on one of his Christmas Eve trips. What started as a childish misadventure leads Elvin down a decades-long journey of deceit, danger, and awkward romantic entanglement. Elvin becomes privy to the many scandals surrounding Christmas: Santa’s secret trysts and many children, the PR scandal that made Rudolph a household name, and the gradual encroachment of humanity on the North Pole. When the original Mr. Claus retires, his scions bring everything crashing down—from corporatization to murder to an unethical “Naughty List.” Meanwhile, Santa himself is nowhere to be found, and Elvin will discover that Christmas being out of sorts spells danger for the very flow of time itself.
THE REIGN OF THE ANTI-SANTAS is a fascinating fable, written as a tell-all book from a whistleblower. Affairs, assassinations, and genocide are all on the table as modernity takes its toll on Christmas. The tonal dissonance takes a while to ease into, but eventually the reader is swept away by Elvin’s strangely believable tales of holiday scandal. What’s more captivating than any of that, though, is Dodds’s worldbuilding. The elves have a fully fleshed-out history and backstory, spun out bit by bit through Elvin’s narrative. From their interaction with humans to their eventual “end-of-life” transformation into pine trees, there’s something almost eldritch about Santa’s little helpers. Through Elvin’s own reckoning with his heritage, the story explores unexpected deeper themes: What is the point of Christmas, especially in its modern corporate state? What is the point of presence? What is true “gratitude”? And what keeps people going during dark times? Amidst the satirical take on whistleblower books, these deeper messages spring to the forefront.
This book will not be for everyone, and many readers may feel tempted to tap out in the early stages. However, THE REIGN OF THE ANTI-SANTAS rewards the dedicated reader. Mingled in among the more cynical story beats are moments of introspection that cut deep. It’s a meaningful and strangely beautiful read, especially for the long winter months ahead.
Amidst its rough language and irreverent subject matter, Colin Dodds’s THE REIGN OF THE ANTI-SANTAS (A Christmas misadventure for grownups) presents a compelling story of life, human nature, and at least one of the meanings of Christmas.
~Kara Dennison for IndieReader