Maybe books weren’t made to replicate the screenplays for horror movies. I now know Laurie Faria Stolarz has written a ton of other horror stories, but I guess this one is proof that it’s harder than you think to make a jump-scare book. The book grabbed my interest though when I read it a while back and I’m about to read the next one. So, maybe I have to contradict myself. Then again, maybe not.
Justin Blake is a fictional horror-movie sensation that has directed said creations with pretentious and familiar names, but he’s built a fandom that is legitimately scared of his movies and has fun with their effectiveness. Our story’s not about him, though. This is primarily about Ivy Jensen, a lone survivor of a killing that has haunted her for the last seven years so much that she finds it utterly ridiculous how anyone would like to be scared. But now Blake has put out a contest, where seven people out of most likely twenty-thousand will be chosen to partake in a horror-fun trip where they get to meet the director and have an experience they’ll never forget. They just have to write, in 1,000 words or less, the worst nightmare they’ve ever had. Ivy decides just for the heck of it to share her real experience, and several months later, it turns out she’s on a plane, with six other winners about to have probably not their best vacation. It soon becomes apparent it definitely won’t be their best vacation.
The book manages to individualize all the competitors, from Ivy to Shayla, Taylor, Frankie, Parker, Natalie and Garth, and actually giving them more detail than I expected, allowing them to feel more humane, making us care a little more about if there will be carnage and if they’ll survive it. I also enjoyed how because of this, the book pokes a bit of light on how different individual people grow up to be from how they got where they are. Ivy lost her family in a killing, with the killer’s chant lingering like a disease, so being scared is not as fun when a tragedy is pasted around the thought. Parker thinking through movie lenses with his character only makes him feel like he loves the idea of holding a camera. Garth has been put down so much of his life that it’s hard for him to care when someone might actually be suggesting something’s wrong. Natalie is a character intriguing enough to deserve her own book. Come to think of it, except for Taylor, the others, Frankie and Shayla, also feel like they came back from either their own books or a book where they were the protagonist’s best friend or sidekick. This setup reminded me of a twisted Six of Crows, a book that loads of people love but I don’t because all the viewpoints and flashbacks in my opinion got in the way of the big heist too much. This one isn’t like that.
The actual problem is how in book translation, this story and this storytelling strategy turns into fake horror. As we learn more about these people, we’re subjected to jump scares suggesting something squishy has just hit the fan, and the fake-outs kind of make fun of how we as an audience are expecting something big to happen, but by waiting too long for anything to get serious, it turns frustrating, annoying and even inauthentic, making it so when it finally gets serious, we’re a little tired out and more relieved it’s finally happened than excited. In fact, it takes so long that I expect a fair amount of readers will give up on it, and there’s no way I can recommend a book with that statement. A book that has a review with what I just said in it should probably have a lower grade than one and a half stars. But I can’t deny I’m interested in the sequel and Stolarz created characters we knew enough about to not want to see them die, and the scares in the last quarter are effective.
This horror book does have brutality in it, but it is so delayed, that for most of this book I imagined it as only one star. I can’t recommend it because I can imagine many less patient readers will put this one down before it can get to any of the literal heartcrushing. However, it has a cliffhanger and a few less main characters are promised in the next book, Return to the Dark House. With the big deal being established, the next one might be a lot better.
If you like this, I’d try Lockdown and Hellraisers by Alexander Gordon Smith
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