It's the story of FantasticLand, a theme park built by its eccentric creator as a rival to the Disney and Universal resortThis book was SO. MUCH. FUN.
It's the story of FantasticLand, a theme park built by its eccentric creator as a rival to the Disney and Universal resorts. When a hurricane hits Florida in late 2017, the area around the park is completely flooded, and FantasticLand ends up being cut off from the mainland for more than a month. After reassurances from its board of directors that the hundreds of employees stranded there have everything they need to survive comfortably, it's bumped down the list of priorities for rescue efforts. But when the National Guard finally reach the park, they are faced with an unbelievably grisly scene: bodies hung from rides, decapitated heads on spikes, blood and bones spattered and strewn everywhere. It emerges that, having banded into tribes, the remaining survivors have been waging an intense, bloody battle with each other. Through interviews with subjects ranging from a 'FantasticLand historian' to the notorious leader of the Pirate tribe, journalist Adam Jakes assembles a loosely chronological account of what went so horribly wrong.
This is, ultimately, horror, but it's the 'violence ordinary people are capable of in desperate circumstances' type of horror, not the ghosts/vampires/demons kind. It's fascinating getting to know the background of this place, and I actually think the exposition was my favourite part. The worldbuilding is just so thorough: if the premise sounds stupidly far-fetched, it doesn't feel like it by the time you've taken in the history of FantasticLand and understand its company culture. The 'battle of the tribes' itself is less enjoyable, or at least it was for me: I'm not fond of long, complicated action scenes, which appear frequently in the final third of the book. I'd also have loved to know more about what the deal was with the Warthogs, although thinking about it, I'm glad a bit of ambiguity was left in. It makes the story scarier.
I've just read the whole description on the Goodreads page, and I think the idea of this being a novel which 'probes the consequences of a social civilisation built online' is overemphasised. The idea that these young people are used to constant stimulation, and the sudden absence of that is what makes them turn so rapidly to violence, is mentioned a few times as a theory, but it's definitely not what the story is about. This paragraph is a bit apropos-of-nothing, but I'm putting it in because I think the blurb makes FantasticLand sound a bit like a tedious anti-social-media parable. It isn't that.
If you liked Sarah Lotz's The Three, I'd recommend this. The different voices and the fact that it's framed as a book about a real-life event make the parallel obvious, and there's a similar sense of dread hanging over the whole thing. It's also equally engaging and readable.
(Incidentally, I'd love to read more books like this. I'm aware of World War Z, which I would consider, but I'm just not really interested in zombies; and I've read Six Stories, which presents its story through transcripts of a fictional podcast. If you know of any other (ideally non-zombie) horror novels that take the 'oral history' approach, tell me!)
I've been trying out Kindle Unlimited recently. So far it's been slim pickings: many of the books available for free are self-published and either a)I've been trying out Kindle Unlimited recently. So far it's been slim pickings: many of the books available for free are self-published and either a) conceptually good but desperately in need of editing or b) just all-round bad. So it was a very pleasant surprise when I started Abbot's Keep and found it to be an assured, well-written and atmospheric ghostly tale.
This is an epistolary story, set in the 1980s, but with a timeless air. Eminent barrister Clifford Fox receives an unsettling account of disturbing events from his brother, Simon. Both well-bred Oxford graduates, the pair were once known as 'the fabulous Fox brothers', destined for preordained greatness; but Simon, an architect, suffered professional disgrace and became an alcoholic. Now – after leaving rehab – he claims to be living rough, on the run from dark entities unknown. In letters to his wife, Clifford lays out his plan: he is certain that Simon has succumbed to his addiction once again and become delusional, and despite their estrangement, he feels bound to help his brother. Meanwhile, we are drip-fed extracts from Simon's story, in which he has some rather sinister encounters at a house named Abbot's Keep...
Abbot's Keep started off providing everything I want in a ghost story: convincing characters, evocative settings, creepy details and the promise of secrets. The scene in which Simon makes a grim discovery is also superb. Where it stopped working quite so well for me was in Simon's sudden unravelling and the gory climax. If the first half of the book evokes the classic Victorian ghost story, the conclusion is firmly in the horror category. I'd have preferred a more subtle resolution and a gentler fate for the blameless Clifford. Still: good stuff for a freebie.