Carnival of Fear
JG Faherty

Graveside Tales
October 10, 2010, Price: $15.95
Review by Darkeva

Carnivals. They come only once a year and they attract people of all ages with promises of cool rides, cotton candy and popcorn, and games. Guys try to impress their dates by putting their skills on display to get novelty-sized teddy bears to give them. Kids beg their parents to go into slanty shanties, houses of horror, and halls of mirrors, all in the name of having fun.

Forget all of that. Carnival of Fear author JG Faherty has something completely different in mind. To get a taste for what he’s thinking of, watch the book trailer.

To give you the gist, a demon who calls himself The Proprietor brings a carnival into a new town every year (never the same town), and he makes quite the introduction, with his caravan materializing from a different dimension and landing on top of a farm field, killing the resident farmer (one of the lucky ones, according to the demon).

Word gets out that there’s a new carnival in town right around Halloween, and who likes frequenting carnivals more than teenagers? We meet a few different groups of kids at Whitebridge High School and they are the heroes of this tale of terror. The main character, Amy, reluctantly agrees to go to the carnival at the behest of her boyfriend, wannabe writer JD. We also meet her douchebag of an ex-boyfriend, Ricky, also going, as well as his strongman, Boz, who wishes that he and his main squeeze, Jeanne, could hang out with Amy and JD instead of Ricky and his girlfriend, the head cheerleader and queen bitch, Traci.

The next group to be introduced is a gaggle of nerds, led by Neil, who likes computer geek Josie, but she loves Ricky even though he doesn’t even know she’s alive. The band of merry nerds plans to go to the carnival as well.

Faherty’s use of multiple points of view works well as we get to hear everyone’s perspective. JD and Amy want to leave Whitebridge after graduation – it’s too bad no one warned them not to go into the central attraction of the carnival, the Castle of Horrors. Most of the characters get trapped inside, and the catch is that they have to go through each room before being able to leave.

Trouble is, each room leads to a different dimension populated by zombies, vampires, demons, werewolves – you name it, this castle’s got it (although Faherty thankfully spares us from mummies, which would have been pushing it with all the existing monsters).

The dimensions they visit include a Scottish castle with werewolves, a mall under threat of zombie attack, another castle with vampires, Frankenstein’s lab, an alternate version of Whitebridge under alien invasion, and even the Salem Witch Trials. Each gets progressively more horrifying than the last, but none of them can even hold a candle to the last room which is, of course, Hell.

At times, I thought the main characters were naive to think that they could go up against the Devil and stand a chance, but to be fair, Faherty’s vision of Satan, although it could have used a bit more oomph, had a nice touch when he revealed everyone’s sins, including who has cheated on whom, which of them is a closet homosexual, etc.

But things get more creative here. Each of the survivors is banished to their own private chamber of Hell and has to find out how to get out by themselves – a real challenge considering that they’ve succeeded based on teamwork so far. If they survive, they can help others out of their cages.

This chapter was the most serious, the most devastating, and the one where everything was on the line. The resolution, while expected, was nevertheless satisfying. And the epilogue added a nice touch to the overall story.

Imagine if someone rewrote The Breakfast Club as a horror novel and you might just end up with Carnival of Fear. This novel is like that movie you’re always looking to rent on Halloween when you’ve seen Halloween, Friday the 13th, Scream, and all the other films out there but want something new that you haven’t seen before but that feels familiar. You’ll find that sense of instant recognition and resonance with this wonderful novel, a delightful romp just in time for the spooky season.

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