[I received a copy of this book through Netgalley.]
The blurb for this book immediately reminded me of some of the horror books I’d read in the early 90s—mostly Stephen King paperbacks my mother gave me, so this ‘80s + horror + kids’ combination is one I’ve known in quite a while, even though I haven’t read such books in at least a decade or more. I suppose watching Stranger Things also put me back in the mood for those, and so here I was, getting into ‘The Sacrifice Box’.
As far as horror stories go, a lot of the usual ingredients are here. Strange happenings. Kids who find they have to gather to stop something evil from happening (and they can’t tell their parents, because they’d just sound crazy). School life with its teachers, sports kids, and bullies and picking on a couple of the main characters, but all things considered, those pale compared to the real threat. A mysterious item with mysterious rules to follow, rules that get, of course, broken—madness ensues. Dead animals coming back to life to attack people. Noises at night. A tiny town on an isolated island. The Halley comet looming over it all, like a bad omen.
All in all, I liked the setting itself, although at times it ‘tried a little too hard’, so to speak. However, where the book lacked a lot was the characters. The main point of view is Sep’s, interspersed with chapters viewed through the eyes of a couple of minor characters, like Mario, the vet doubling as chippy owner, in whose restaurant Sep works; or Thom and Aileen, two older people who also opened the box and made sacrifices back in 1941 when the war was raging (the story’s set in the UK, by the way—it’s not always very clear, as the atmosphere feels very ‘US-like’). The problem is that, as far as the other four kids are concerned, I didn’t get more than superficial impressions about them. For instance, Lamb is the hockey player, lives on a farm with her father, and lost her mother when she was a kid, yet apart from that and from her anger at whoever broke the rules of the box, I never really ‘saw’ her, who she was, how she really felt, her fears, and so on; and in such a horror-driven story, with such a concept of a box into which a band of children placed items loaded with both good and bad emotions, childhood fears, hopes and feelings would’ve been a necessary element to play on for all the characters, not just one.
I also didn’t see the point to the bully. At first, I expected him to play more of a part—perhaps the kind of character who ends up completely crazy, starts muttering about having to ‘kill the evil’, grabs a rifle, becomes an impediment to the kids’ efforts to restore the order (it’s a bit cliché, but it’d have its place in such a plot). And then… It just petered out. In the same way, I would've appreciated more of a conclusion regarding the events and the box itself: the epilogue doesn't shed light on all the things that should've followed (how did the parents react, what about all the dead people, how were events explained officially, etc.). Here, too, some plot ends were left dangling.
Conclusion: A fast read, and rather entertaining in a superficial way; but the novel kept feeling like an attempt to surf on the “Stranger Things” wave, and didn't live up to the kind of books/stories it tried to be an homage to.