This month saw the launch of Red Eye, Stripes publishing’s new YA horror line. With Red Eye, Stripes is aiming to give horror a frighteningly contemporary makeover mixing pop culture, violence and technology and reaching a new generation of teen horror readers. The first two books in this line-up are Alex Bell’s Frozen Charlotte and Lou Morgan’s Sleepless. I was very excited for both of these stories, so I’m quite pleased that today as part of the inaugural Red Eye blog tour, I get to bring you a double-bill: reviews for both of these novels. Don’t forget to catch up with the blog tour tomorrow over at Studio Reads!
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.
I had read and enjoyed Alex Bell’s Lex Trent Versus the Gods in 2011, but never managed to scare up a copy of its sequel Lex Trent: Fighting Fire with Fire. Thus I was really pleased to get another chance to read more of Bell’s work with Frozen Charlotte. It’s quite a move away from the Lex Trent books, which were very much fun adventure books for younger teens. In comparison, Frozen Charlotte is quite dark and has a completely creepy notion at the base of it: a house haunted by dolls. It is Victorian Chucky turned to eleven.
Having read a little more horror in the past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that for horror to be effective, a connection to the characters is crucial; how can you be afraid for someone if you don’t care? In that sense, Sophie is a fantastic protagonist. I really liked her voice and her story. Sophie’s kind and funny, with a sharp edge. I love her friendship with Jay and the way that Bell portrays it throughout the novel, notwithstanding the fact that Jay is practically absent from the narrative after the first chapter. Sophie’s grief feels real and her determination to get to the bottom of what happens at the start of the book was convincing.
To do so, Sophie goes to Skye to stay with her Uncle James and her cousins, while her parents travel abroad. She lands in an interesting household. With a mother hospitalised due to her grief over losing her daughter and a father who is trying to lose himself in his work, the household is mostly held together by the elder two siblings, Cameron and Piper. In fact, Uncle James made me want to scream, because I just wanted him to come out from behind his easel and take responsibility for the care of his children. The sibling dynamics between Cameron, Piper, and Lilias were great, even if sometimes a bit twisted. Rebecca’s death affects all of these family members differently and it was fascinating to see how each of them coped, or didn’t as the case may be.
I felt a pervasive sense of dread throughout the story and I kept shifting my suspicions about who or what was responsible for the frightening occurrences. At first I was wondering whether the dolls were a manifestation of Rebecca, a hallucination, or their own spectres, but increasingly it felt as if these Frozen Charlottes possessed a consciousness and I started wondering where they came from and whose consciousness had invaded them. I really loved the captions at the start of each chapter, which combined make the ballad of Fair Charlotte which tells the tale of a girl who freezes to death on the way to a ball due to vanity, which also hinted at a possible source of the dolls.
Frozen Charlotte has a great ending, satisfying and at least for most of the characters quite hopeful, even if the epilogue made me just go “No, no, no, don’t do that!” With Frozen Charlotte Bell delivers a chilling story, a proper haunting ghost tale. It’s a story I really enjoyed, though I’ve put my girls dolls in the back of their toy cupboard for the time being. Just to make sure…
Luckily, Tigs has a solution. A small pill that will make revision a breeze and help them get the results they need. Desperate to succeed, the group begin taking the study drug.
It doesn’t take long before they realise there are far worse things than failing a few exams.
Sleepless is Lou Morgan’s first YA novel. She published numerous short stories and her previous two novels, Blood and Feathers and Blood and Feathers: Rebellion were fantasy books published by Solaris. Having massively enjoyed those, I was curious to see what Morgan would do writing horror and horror aimed at a young adult audience at that. She wrote a freaking frightening book, that’s what she did. Sleepless is a seriously nerve-wracking roller coaster of a tale, with a serious And Then There Were None-vibe combined with some old-school horror movie feels and stirred with a spoonful of modern technology.
The story is told from the perspective of Izzy Whedon.The last to arrive at Clerkenwell and to join her band of friends, she’s a girl with a nebulous past, which she often references, but never quite reveals. I really loved Izzy as a character. What makes her extra interesting that Morgan positions her as an increasingly unreliable narrator; not just due to sleep deprivation and paranoia, but also due to her reluctance to reveal the reason she came to Clerkenwell. It adds an ever-increasing amount of tension to the narrative that made it hard to put the book down.
Izzy is part of a group of eight friends and while they are all individuals, some stand out more clearly than others. The one we see most of in addition to Izzy is her best friend – and maybe, possibly more – Grey. They live in the same building and have known each other ever since Izzy moved in the year before. I love their friendship, which is fun, has great banter, and has meaning both to Izzy as a character and to the plot. Noah is the brains of the outfit. None of these teens are slobs when it comes to smarts, but Noah beats them all. He’s the loveable know-it-all, which is a character type I have a real soft spot for. Kara, Mia, Dom, and Juliet are all a little less defined, but the last character, Tigs just stood out in stark relief. Tigs was a character I loved to hate. I absolutely disliked her within the first chapters and then thought “Well you know absentee parents, the kid can’t help her upbringing. She’s a wounded soul , etc.” trying to somehow explain why she is so unpleasant. But no, Tigs is just a spoiled, bratty, mean girl and revels in the fact.
There is one more important character in the narrative, though it is a place rather than a person. What I really liked about the setting is that the Barbican, the complex where Izzy and her friends live, becomes a character in its own right. This estate for the wealthy in the centre of London felt so surreal and isolated even if it was in the heart of the city. To me Barbican had always just been a tube stop, one I’d never yet gotten off at and Morgan really made the place come alive.
The plot of the book was fascinating. It is as much a murder mystery as it is a conspiracy thriller as it is a horror story. And in the end all of these elements take a backseat to staying awake and staying alive. Because sleep, who knew right? I mean, as a parent to two small children, one of whom is still a toddler, I do get the bone-tiredness of not having slept properly in weeks. However, that a lack of sleep could so seriously screw up your entire biological system, essentially short-circuiting your nervous system, was something I didn’t know. And apart from being completely terrifying, it also made me appreciate that we’re now at the point were broken nights are an anomaly rather than the rule.
The ending to Sleepless slayed me and left me a little shell-shocked. I thought it was a pretty gutsy ending for Morgan to pull off. In fact it was so captivating, I almost missed Emma’s school run, because I just HAD to finish the book before school and work. I loved Sleepless and the novel shows Morgan can really write anything she sets her mind to. Also, while Izzy is nothing like Morgan’s protagonist from Blood and Feathers, Morgan’s voice is quite consistent across both worlds. It reminded me how much I enjoy Morgan’s writing and now I want even more! Fingers crossed there’ll be a new book to look forward to in the foreseeable future.
These books were provided for review by the publisher.
As an extra treat, have a book trailer to introduce the first four Red Eye titles: