Red Eye #1: Frozen Charlotte

There’s a creepy doll, that always follows you. It’s got a ruined eye, that’s always open; and it’s got a pretty mouth, to swallow your soul. The doll is in your house and in your room and in your bed; the doll is in your eyes and in your arms and in your head. Let’s chill out with Frozen Charlotte, by Alex Bell.

Synopsis:

We’re waiting for you to come and play. Dunvegan School for Girls has been closed for many years. Converted into a family home, the teachers and students are long gone. But they left something behind…Sophie arrives at the old schoolhouse to spend the summer with her cousins. Brooding Cameron with his scarred hand, strange Lilias with a fear of bones and Piper, who seems just a bit too good to be true. And then there’s her other cousin. The girl with a room full of antique dolls. The girl that shouldn’t be there. The girl that died.

Source: Goodreads

SPOILERS BELOW

Talk about getting off on the wrong foot. The beginning of Frozen Charlotte made it nearly impossible for me to take the rest of the book seriously. The book opens with the characters talking about how risky and dangerous Ouija boards are because of all the occult deaths associated with them.

“Isn’t there some kind of law against Ouija boards or something? I thought they were supposed to be dangerous.”
Frozen Charlotte, Chapter One

I’d like to shout at the characters: It’s a toy! It’s made by Hasbro and sold along with Transformers and My Little Pony dolls! Why are you making such a big deal about this?

But okay, reading a horror story involves a certain amount of suspension of disbelief. By picking the book up, you are accepting the premise that ghosts or monsters or malevolent spirits really do exist, at least in this fictional world. If a bunch of teenagers go to a graveyard or a haunted house with an Ouija board, obviously there’s no way it can end except with one or more of them getting killed or possessed. In fact, if you think about the logical consequences of the premise, it almost makes sense. If, in this fictional world, ghosts and demons and ambiguous evil forces really do exist, and really can be summoned using Ouija boards, then of course they would be regarded as dangerous. Hasbro would have dropped the patent like a hot potato after the first few children got their faces chewed off by horrors from the Stygian haunts of Hell. It’s like Yu-Gi-Oh! in a way: at first it may seem silly that everyone in the world is obsessed with a silly children’s card game; but if a children’s card game allowed people access to real and verifiable magic powers, you’d damned well better believe that everyone in the world would want in on that action.

But here’s where that premise falls apart. See, the characters aren’t in a cemetery or haunted house at midnight when they use the Ouija board; they’re in a restaurant in the middle of the day. And they aren’t using an ancient cursed Ouija board they got from an elderly Chinese man selling monkey’s paws and Mogwais from a little shop that wasn’t there yesterday and won’t be there tomorrow – they aren’t using a real Ouija board at all. They’re using a free phone app they downloaded from the Internet. And yet, despite this complete half-assed effort on their part, they succeed in calling up a terrible evil spirit capable of murder. Forget all the stuff I said before about rational consequences of living in a world where the supernatural is real: if it were this easy, it wouldn’t even be regarded as “supernatural”. It’d just be “natural”. All children would be taught: “don’t play with matches, don’t run with scissors, and don’t mess with evil spirits”. There would be cheesy educational films in schools, except instead of the lesson being “Just Say No to Drugs” it would be “Just Say No to the Occult”. There characters would have known not to mess with Ouija boards, and the inciting incident never would have happened.

Oh, and when I say the children succeeded in “calling” up a terrible evil spirit? Deliberate pun. Because after using the Ouija app on the phone, they get a call from the evil ghost. Yes, just like Samara from The Ring. By this point, I was shaking with laughter.

My, oh, my. All this writing, and I still haven’t gotten past the first chapter. Unless I want this review to be as long as the book itself, I need to speed things up a bit.

Having dug itself into such a deep hole in the first few chapters, the rest of the book really faced an uphill climb in trying to get me interested and invested again. Fortunately, it didn’t waste any time in setting about improving the quality of the storytelling. The first big step in this regard was introducing a new set of character, all far more interesting and intriguing that the Ouija-phone dumbasses. Lilias, for instance; her cartilogenophobia made for a unique character quirk that gave me an immediate interest in her past and foreboding as to what horrors lay in her future.

However, the moment things really liven up is when the book actually starts doling out the details behind the evil the Frozen Charlotte dolls have perpetrated: pushing people down stairs, drowning them in lakes, convincing them to commit suicide… they even stuck needles into Martha Jones’s eyes. Sounds like she could’ve used a Doctor! (…I’m sorry for that joke. I’m so sorry.) No, in complete seriousness, the dolls actually redeemed the story for me. Whereas before I was just giggling at the supposed horror, I found that they painted actual creepy mental images: dolls clawing at the inside of their glass cases, leaving tiny scratches in the glass; countless doll hands pressed against the house’s windows; the ghost piano surrounded by dolls; dolls embedded in the burnt tree and in the basement walls. And the final revelation that there were dolls inside all the walls all throughout the house… whoa. Maybe it’s just my personal biases speaking here; I always thought that the scariest episode of The X-Files was the creepy doll episode “Chinga”, and was surprised to learn that it got largely negative reviews from critics. So, take that for whatever it’s worth.

The ending was satisfactory in terms of protagonists surviving and villains getting their just desserts – I was just waiting for the epilogue where the dolls Sophie threw into the sea wash back up on shore, or some unburnt dolls are discovered in the ashes of the house, but it fortunately allowed the heroes’ victory to stand without feeling the need to throw in some bullshit stinger. It did, however, leave some questions unanswered. For instance, while Piper was apparently all Bad Seed from the start, Rebecca only became evil while under the influence of the dolls; and her ghost wanted to assist Sophie in uncovering the truth about her death. So if she was a benevolent spirit, why did she kill Jay? Unless it was somehow the dolls doing that, acting through her somehow? Or did she not actually kill Jay at all, and it was just chance or destiny that he would happen to die for completely unrelated reasons on the same day he asked her ghost when he would die? Also, I have to ask: where did the evil dolls come from in the first place? It’s not enough to ruin my enjoyment of the book, but being left with such unsatisfying loose ends does prevent my from giving it a higher rating.

Finally, I suppose I should address the Red Eye prefix. Red Eye is a horror series put out by Stripes Publishing, featuring different authors writing different types of horror. My interest in Frozen Charlotte came from seeing it on the shelf in a book store, so I didn’t have any pre-knowledge of the series and that didn’t factor into my decision to read it. I honestly don’t have much of an interest in reading most of the other books in the series, based on the synopses I’ve read; and since it’s not a strict series in terms of direct sequels with the same setting and characters, I don’t really feel compelled to continue. However, one of the other books in the series is by the same author as Frozen Charlotte; and since I liked this one, I might eventually check that one out as well.

Wow, this ended up being a long review for a book I just picked up on a whim. But to sum up: Frozen Charlotte is cool by me.

Final Rating: 3/5

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