Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Review - The Slither Sisters by Jason Rekulak (writing as Charles Gilman)

Short review: Robert and Glenn foiled Tillinghast's plans in the first book, but Sarah and Sylvia Price have been possessed by horrible monsters and have a plan to take over Lovecraft Middle School.

A fake twin sister
Runs to head student council
And she must be stopped

Disclosure: I received this book as part of the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program. Some people think this may bias a reviewer so I am making sure to put this information up front. I don't think it biases my reviews, but I'll let others be the judge of that.

Full review: The Slither Sisters is the second book in the Tales from Lovecraft Middle School series by author Charles Gilman. The story is a Lovecraftian horror story aimed at middle-grade readers, which at first glance seems somewhat inherently self-contradictory. Gilman manages to keep the story is somewhat Lovecraftian, so that it retains the creepy and lethal nature of his works, but is also toned down just enough to be acceptable for its intended audience. In some ways, the series occupies the same territory as the various light horror series by authors such as Bruce Coville and John Bellairs, and happily, it holds up well to the comparison.

Robert Adams and Glenn Torkells are students at Lovecraft Middle School, and they have troubles. In the first book they apparently learned that their school was built from the ruins of the physicist Crawford Tillinghast's mansion, and that it was apparently destroyed when Tillinghast delved too deeply into the secrets of the universe, opening a gate to an otherworldly dimension. Adams and Torkells stumbled across the truth: that the mansion still exists, but it was moved to another dimension. Having been built from this world's scraps of the mansion, Lovecraft Middle School is riddled with gates between the two places, and Tillinghast is using these links to try to stage an invasion of horrible Lovecraftian creatures so he can take over the world. Along the way, Adams and Torkells befriend a ghost named Karina who is tied to the school's location. Most of this background was laid in the first book, which is one of the weaknesses of this book. Gilman does a decent job of recapping this material in the early chapters of Slither Sisters, so reading the first book is not absolutely required, but I suspect it would make the story in this book much more enjoyable.

The plot revolves around the Middle School student council elections and the titular sisters, two twins named Sarah and Sylvia Price. It turns out that Sarah Price is running for student council president, which is something of a problem because Adams and Torkell know that she and her sister are not human at all, but rather merely shells that used to be the Price sisters, but which are now occupied by horrible monsters from beyond. Not only that, Adams is dealing with being the teenage son of a single mother who is struggling to help her only son deal with adolescence. But this is just a secondary plot point at best, the meat of the story is Sarah Price's run for student council president, which is part of a plan by Tillinghast to take over the school's student body. This seems to be a fairly impractical plan, since it relies upon the idea that all of the middle school students would follow the student council president like lemmings, which seems somewhat implausible. The plan is supposedly bolstered by the Price sisters being very popular among the student population, but it seems odd to think that getting elected as student council president (which is more or less just a popularity contest anyway) would make their popularity so much greater than it was already that the allure of any plan they proposed would be irresistible.

The implausibility of the plan aside, Adams and Torkell decide that Sarah Price's campaign must be derailed, but since her only announced opposition is the nerdy and disabled Howard Mergler, they have to come up with an alternate plan. After Adams and Torkell befriend the elderly Mrs. Lavinia, who turns out to be Tillinghast's resentful sister, she convinces them that Adams must run for student council president himself. Unfortunately, Adams is not a particularly popular boy, and so they have to figure out a way to make his public profile more visible to make his campaign viable. Mrs. Lavinia introduces the boys to her husband, and after he reveals that his own investigations have uncovered some disturbing events that have the potential to affect far more than just Lovecraft Middle School, he agrees to help with Adams' campaign.

The story winds its way through the eventful campaign, with the sisters attempting to foil Adams, Torkells, and Karina, frequently even issuing lethal threats, and everything eventually comes to a head at the school's annual Halloween dance. The ending of the campaign starts off fairly predictably, but then Gilman pulls off a twist ending, and then does it yet again, which is a pretty difficult trick to pull off. Given that this is a series, it should come as no surprise that this book sets up the plot for the next installment, but it does it without making this story feel incomplete. The Slither Sisters is a very enjoyable book that captures the distinct mix of fantasy, science fiction, and horror that made Lovecraft's tales so intriguing, and manages to put everything into a package suitable for younger readers.

Previous book in the series: Professor Gargoyle
Subsequent book in the series: Teacher's Pest

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