Return to the Dark House by Laurie Faria Stolarz Book Review

This book convinced me I should one day return to this duology, and see the first one anew, which I gave a rather unfavourable review of. I said it was a jump-scare book that wasn’t set up to truly scare, and by the time it actually got to the good stuff, I was more relieved than excited. I also said it left an involving cliffhanger, and a few days ago, it brought me back to the Dark House.

How the last book ended was Ivy Jensen was not the only survivor of a carnival gone as wrong as possible. One of the contestants, Taylor, followed her gut over something and left early, which was definitely the right call. Parker, a guy Ivy had taken a liking to, also survived his nightmare but couldn’t reach the closing gate in time. Ivy ran for help but Parker was nowhere to be found. Nor were any of the contestants who died; Garth, Shayla, Frankie or Natalie. But then again, as we now learn, neither were their bodies. Ivy is 100% certain whoever orchestrated this Justin Blake killing trap is the same one who murdered her parents, and suffering from fright, she scoffs at promises from the police she sees through like plastic.

She tries to maybe let it go and adapt when she’s let out of the hospital and given a cafe job, but hints are surfacing the killer is stalking her, and with no one taking her seriously she heads out to find the only other known survivor and plan their next move, which will eventually bring them to the sequel of the Dark House, literally.

I was actually quite excited when I finally picked this book up, which sounds like a clashing phrase when you say “finally picked up”. Call it nerves of expectation, maybe. But as the only other book in this series so far, and this was released five years ago, it at least promises answers, gore, and much-anticipated confrontations. Plus, the first one was, in my book, even if it did a decent job of developing every character, cluttered, which distracted from the scares. This one has far less characters. I hoped that would be a positive, and it was. We feel like this is truly Ivy’s story.

I also liked the hints of victims from the last book perhaps having not actually perished. If the last book did something right, it was make the characters layered enough to not feel disposable, so it was a lot of fun hinting at that. I won’t spoil when or how Ivy ends up at whatever place the shit’s supposed to go down, but I was really enjoying myself. But it ends up actually going down a step or two when the buildup finishes and the big rumble commences. It can’t seem to decide if it wants to be horror, mystery, or a thorough explanation of how the killer came to be, and it settles for a few of the jump scares I was sick of during the first book. There’s also a way another character goes missing that feels forced.

There are more than a few times when Ivy is able to overpower the killer, and every time, she doesn’t finish the job. She runs off. I understand the feeling of flight when someone is provenly bigger and stronger than you and wants to kill you, but after all the torment she’s put through, not just in these books but her entire life, I feel logically, when there’s a specific time where she really manages to overpower him, she would’ve done it. She would’ve actually been able to do it easily. I guess dumb horror movie characters still bother me sometimes.

Still, after trekking through the overstuffed weird LIFEL1K3, I really enjoyed myself so much more with this rather quick ride. Return to the Dark House was better than the original for reasons I expected. I also did not expect some turns it took. Horror is really good in general at making endings I can’t foresee. Even though I’m not in love with it, I definitely now recommend both of the Dark House books altogether if you’re up for some craziness in your deep campfire fright tales.

If you like this, I’d try Asylum by Madeleine Roux

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