Some curses grow stronger with time. For instance, the curses uttered by someone reading an increasingly bad book. Let’s curse The Haunting, by Alex Bell.
Some curses grow stronger with time…
People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.
Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…
I originally picked up Frozen Charlotte as a stand-alone horror novel; and when I learned it was part of a loose “series”, I didn’t really have any intention of checking out the other books. But then, despite a rocky beginning, Frozen Charlotte actually ended up being pretty decent; and since one other book in the Red Eye lineup was by the same author, I figured it couldn’t hurt to check it out.
Alas, it did hurt. The Haunting wasn’t available from my local library, which meant I had to buy it in order to read it, thereby hurting my wallet; and the narrative stumbled all over itself and collapsed into a pile of disappointment, which hurt my head thinking about how it managed to screw up.
In many ways, The Haunting is the opposite of Frozen Charlotte with its problems. Frozen Charlotte started out weak, but picked up steam as it went on; The Haunting started out promising, but then bungled its potential. Frozen Charlotte had an initially pretty ridiculous horror plot redeemed by the introduction of strong, interesting characters; but the characters are where I think The Haunting went awry. Though I should specify that my problems aren’t with the characters themselves – I liked 2/3 of the viewpoint characters – but with how they’re used, or rather misused, within the structure of the story.
The first character to be introduced is Emma, I and was very excited with her potential as a protagonist at the beginning of the book. A big element of horror is powerlessness, lack of control; so of course it makes sense to put a physically handicapped person in a horror situation. I still haven’t forgiven Ookami Kakushi for including a cute wheelchair-bound girl in a horror series and then doing absolutely nothing to place her in any kind of horror situation. (But then, the list of things I haven’t forgiven Ookami Kakushi for is quite a long one indeed. That show had no idea what it was doing). Perhaps Emma would be character I was waiting for, struggling against her physical limitations as she desperately tries to escape the hotly pursuing horrific doom which is gaining on her by inches…. But despite being the first protagonist introduced, she ends up having the least to do. The witch isn’t targeting her, and she doesn’t have the magic necessary to fight back against the witch – she’s just kind of there sitting on the sidelines.
The second of the main trio, Jem, is the character I have a problem with. He’s the typical idiot in the horror film who refuses to believe that he’s in a horror film despite all evidence to the contrary, resolutely stating “there’s no such things as ghosts” while behind him Linda Blair’s head spins round and round and blood seeps from the walls. Since he refuses to believe in or engage with anything that’s happening, his perspective is effectively useless; yet we’re forced to spend a third of the book looking out through his incredibly myopic eyes. Joy.
Finally, there’s Shell. Now, don’t get me wrong, Shell is very interesting and I like her a lot – probably the most out of the main three. She definitely had the most interesting plotline. However, the way the story’s written just doesn’t work. I think Shell should either be the only POV character in the story, or she should be a non-POV character.
The biggest mistake the story makes is definitely make all three main characters into POV characters. We have the view from inside each of their heads and so know what they’re thinking, which is counterproductive to creating the atmosphere of suspense that a horror book requires. Introducing Shell from Emma’s perspective makes Shell seem incredibly creepy, possibly even possessed by the ghost and the source of everything happening… but then we get to pop on over into Shell’s brain and see that no, she’s totally not evil, and the other protagonists totally should trust her. Thus, when Emma and Jem are all weirded out by Shell and refuse to listen to her, they come off as idiots due to knowledge that we, the reader, possess. If we’d been kept out of Shell’s head, to see and hear only what Emma and Jem saw and heard, then we might agree with them refusing to go along with that the clearly crazy lady says. It’s hard to look at it that way, though, when it’s been made clear in Shell’s POV chapters that Shell is not crazy and is in fact the only one capable of stopping the witch.
Either of the girls could function perfectly decently as a main character. Emma would work fine in a horror story somewhat like this if she was the sole POV character, and we didn’t get to jump into the heads of everyone she met to defuse all tension by confirming that the strange girl babbling about witchcraft is innocent and good at heart; thereby reassuring us that there’s no reason at all to get afraid or feel any form of suspense whenever she appears to be doing spooky things. Likewise, Shell could easily handle a horror book of her own (probably one with more ambiguous supernatural elements, to heighten Shell’s confusion between what’s just hallucination and what’s real supernatural menace) – if she was the sole POV character, with no ability to jump into the head of someone sane and get an unbiased look at what’s definitely real and what’s definitely in her head. It’s just both of them in the same book that doesn’t work, because each removes what would be the source of mystery and suspense in the other’s plotline. To bring things back around to Frozen Charlotte, that book worked because it only had one POV character and everyone else was an enigma. Here, there are no enigmas.
Oh, and there’s a bullshit “OR IS IT!?!?” ending. I don’t particularly hold it against the book, since I’m well used to horror stories having bullshit “or is it” endings and pretty much just ignore the stingers as a matter of course… but it doesn’t exactly do the story any favors, either. If it was counting on a last-minute twist to make me re-evaluate everything that had come before and see it all in a whole new light, well, that didn’t do it.
Some book series grow worse with time, and The Haunting is no worthy successor to Frozen Charlotte.
Final Rating: 2/5