Y’all, I want to apologize in advance for this one. I actually read this in October with the intention of writing up a recap then, but this one was so bad I couldn’t justify it. I’ve honestly debated skipping it because it’s that bad, but I set out to read every Fear Street story, and that includes this one.
The cover (taken from Simon & Schuster’s website) I actually like. The contrast is on point, the delicate woman next to a rose dripping blood is classic, and while the creepy doll is out of place, at least it’s something. It depicts a woman being consumed by darker things, and I appreciate that.
She learned to love, honor… and fear.
I also really like this! The ellipses are unnecessary, but it plays into the themes of the novel without revealing too much. A great start to a terrible book.
We open in Blackrose Manor, where an ancient woman rambles on about how she misses her home in Whispering Oaks. She murmurs her story to absolutely no one, but starts the tale of Savannah and Victoria, and how they met Tyler Fier. She mentions that both girls were in love with him, which I think is to keep us on our toes on which sister survives???? except Victoria at no point is like “he’s evil but I’m still into it”.
We start our story proper on the Whispering Oaks plantation in 1861. Remember how I was mildly uncomfortable in the last book because it was sent in the south during the Civil War, which meant all our characters’ loyalties belonged to the slave owners? So in this book, the main characters are slave owners, and Tyler Fier comes from the north, which puts us in a fun wacky “who’s the real monster” kind of mindset (It’s still Tyler). The previous book managed to avoid it by having no real mention of the Civil War except in scene setting and Stine not pulling a Django Unchained, but the main plot of this book sort of hinges on that, so like.
Which is to say, it’s Savannah’s birthday! The slaves are setting up for the party while Savannah waits for her brother Zachariah and his friend Tyler to return from their ride. She’s sort of how Scarlett O’Hara presents herself, and when she suspects the boys are coming back, she goes inside to gather a parasol and make herself a grand entry. She’s stopped by her mother, who asks about her sister Victoria. Savannah’s worried about her sister because she “was fascinated by the dark arts some of the slave women practiced”. Oofadoof. But she ignores her mother’s request to find her sister and greets Tyler. The two of them take a walk together into the woods, where they start macking. He says he must leave soon, and she’s heartbroken until he asks her to marry him. They’ll announce the marriage at the picnic. But Savannah hears something behind her and sees her sister darting through the trees. She follows her into the slave quarters and hears something squeal in terror, and whens he pushes open the door, Victoria is covered in blood.
The word voodoo is never said, possibly because Stine knows as much about voodoo as your average non-practitioner, but we see Victoria holding a piglet in a half circle of candles. She takes the blood of the piglet and sprinkles it on the candles, saying words we recognize: Dominatio per malum. She brings a knife over the piglet, but Savannah knocks her over. Victoria is still in her trance as Savannah tries to wake her, and Victoria shouts that Tyler is cursed, that all the Fiers are cursed, and they will be cursed if Savannah marries him. Savannah’s pretty sure Victoria’s just jealous, to which Victoria repeats that his presence only means death. Savannah’s not convinced otherwise.
As they leave the shack, they see Tyler and have an exchange that might be the best in any book:
“I want to make your sister happy,” he told Victoria firmly.
“Then leave her.” Victoria walked away without another word.
Drop the mic Victoria! The two lovers turn to each other and say they’ll be together forever right as a rider gallops towards them screaming, “War!” Also holding up a newspaper? Someone will have to fact check for me the rate of information travel, but that feels a bit much for me. He tells them that Fort Sumter has been fired on, and Savannah realizes with dawning horror that her beloved is now officially a soldier. He asks if she’ll wait for him, and she says of course, and he’ll fight alongside her brother, to which he responds no. He’s from the North. His loyalties lie with the North. He offers to marry her today, and then they’ll leave for his home in Massachusetts, and Savannah becomes livid. Her home and family is in the South. She can’t just leave that. Her rejection makes him angry, and he demands that she come with him one more time. Savannah runs away. But Tyler screams at her once more that she’ll regret choosing her home and family and everything she knows over him, and that he is a man who keeps his promises.
The old woman babbles some more. She says the slaves ran, their parents died, and the two began to starve in their home. They have no money left and no one to tend the fields, so the pair struggle to find food. There’s a scene where they eat worms that comes across as more comical than horrifying, which kind of undercuts the whole “slowly starving in our decaying mansion in the South” thing but it’s probably fine. Savannah sleeps uneasily and hears a noise in the hall. She opens the door to see Zachariah, but he smells of gunpowder and bleeding profusely. He opens his mouth to speak and blood pours out, and Savannah wakes. She half-tells Victoria her dream, not wanting to scare her, and notices a dark stain where Zachariah was standing in her dream. This does nothing and never really comes back, except they receive a letter from Tyler saying Zachariah’s dead and he saw it happen, making him realize she’s more important than any war. Victoria’s heartbroken about their brother, but Savannah is scared for Tyler. She begs Victoria to do some magic to see if he’s alright.
Victoria takes her sister to her room where she prepares a ritual. She holds up a pair of chicken feet for Savannah to kiss, which she does. Victoria then paints them in blood and makes markings on the letter. The room gets ice cold as she picks up the letter and burns it, sparking outrage from Savannah. She still thinks her sister is jealous, but Victoria tells her that Tyler Fier will destroy her if they allow him back. The old woman is back and says they’d be so much happier if they never received the letter. A bluebird flies up to her, and she tears its head off. I don’t know why.
It’s now 1865, and Savannah and Victoria have managed a small garden. Savannah’s working on it when a soldier approaches her. He tells her the war is over and he is going home. Savannah races up to Victoria’s room to tell her, only to find her sister rocking back and forth and talking to Tyler Fier, threatening to destroy him. When Savannah tells her the news, Victoria says that no one will be coming home to them. Only Tyler Fier. She hands Savannah a pouch to ward off evil. Savannah tells her she doesn’t need it. After a few weeks, destiny comes for them, and Tyler Fier arrives at the manor. He asks her again if she’ll marry him, to which she says yes, and he tells her he can’t wait to take her to Blackrose Manor. Savannah’s uncertain to leave behind her home, but last time it ended kind of badly, so she agrees.
They arrive at Blackrose Manor as a storm threatens them overhead. They enter the grey stone manor and see rows of portraits, though Stine refuses to elaborate so I can tell where Tyler fits into this weird family. They also meet Mrs. Moreland, who runs the house. Victoria is nervous, but Savannah’s certain they’ll settle in. As Victoria rushes into her room, Mrs. Moreland tells her she’s wise to hide, and that the two girls should leave while they can. Savannah refuses to be scared and tells her she can return to her duties. After exploring the house a little, Savannah goes to find Tyler, only to find him in front of the portraits, screaming at them to stop staring. He stabs one over and over again. He moans to Savannah that they don’t understand what he did during the war, and she comforts him. They hear screaming and run to the staircase, where we meet Lucy.
Lucy’s never really explained properly. She was the ward of Tyler’s parents, I guess, and he treats her as a little sister. She acts like a child and flings herself into Tyler’s arms as Victoria chases after her. Lucy stole her pouch of protection, and Tyler forces her to give it back and apologize. The ladies go upstairs to prepare for dinner. It’s a strange dinner, worthy of any unsettling Crimson Peak-esque melodrama if written well, with Lucy getting upset that Victoria took her spot and being obsessed with the candles, Savannah and her sister dressed up again for the first time in ages, them enjoying a meal with real vegetables and spices. Lucy gets upset when she’s chided by Tyler and knocks over the candelabra, screaming fire. When she’s scolded by Victoria, she tells them fire is so pretty and she likes the way it dances. They all decide the day has been too exciting and head up to bed. Savannah is woken by a maid and she asks her to press her dress, but they both find it torn and slashed. Lucy comes up behind them and shouts that the dress is ruined. Savannah says she doesn’t want to tell Tyler, and Lucy seems pleased to be given a secret, so she offers to show her the dolls.
We are led to Lucy’s room, which is painted black and as gloomy as the rest of the house. It’s filled with dolls: porcelain, cloth, on the dresser, on the bed, all with black hair and dark eyes. Lucy says they can’t be friends because they’re sisters, which fills Savannah’s heart. She tells her she’s always wanted another sister. Lucy asks her to pick a doll, and the one Savannah lifts up has been smashed. When she asks Lucy what happened, she tells her that she killed it. The other dolls were happy when it got hurt. They were so happy Lucy got hurt. All the dolls are named Lucy.
Savannah’s pretty hardcore in denial at this point, saying all they need to make this place better is some new paint. Victoria’s gone the other way and won’t stop screaming about evil. Victoria points out that Lucy has a big ol’ crush on Tyler, which Savannah laughs off, until Victoria tells her that Lucy is really seventeen and wants Tyler for herself. Tyler keeps giving Savannah gifts, including a horse named Whisper, Lucy tells Victoria Savannah said she always wanted a different sister, Savannah feeds her breakfast to the cat and watches it die, indicating it was poison, and then someone sets her room on fire. She tells Tyler someone is trying to kill her, and he responds by moving up the wedding date.
The servants get killed one by one, even Mrs. Mooreland, whose death forces Savannah to wonder if Victoria is behind it. She goes to find her and sees Victoria holding a knife to Tyler’s throat. He laughs at her and wonders aloud if Savannah would still be so loyal if she knew Victoria was behind all the fire. Victoria screams that she must end the curse, but Savannah rushes her and knocks her to the floor. In the struggle, the knife goes into Victoria. Savannah wails as her sister dies in her arms and promises to return her to Whispering Oaks. Tyler comforts her by saying she saved his life. He still wants to marry her. Savannah says she’s tired of being unhappy, and they plan to wed after burying her sister.
The day after the funeral, Savannah is married in black. What should be the happiest day of her life is filled with longing and regret as she remembers all the family she’s lost and how they should be here. After their wed, Savannah tells Lucy they’re really sisters now, and Lucy makes her swear to never have children, lest they also suffer the Fear curse. As the couple goes to their wedding night, Lucy screams at the both of them. Tyler still treats her like a child and never allowed her to grow up. She says that he should’ve married her instead. Tyler manages to pacify her and takes Savannah to their bedroom. When she tells him what Lucy told her in the church, he tells her that Lucy killed her parents. He thinks it’s time she’s taken away, that she might be dangerous.
She’s not taken away soon enough. Savannah finds her dead at the bottom of the stairs and rushes to tell Tyler. Only he seems to be in a laboratory of some kind, with Lucy’s hand amid vials and potions. He tells her that he killed Lucy and Mrs. Mooreland and Zachariah for good measure. He did all that for… reasons and is now going to kill her. Savannah to her credit bashes him over the head with a torch and that stabs him with a pair of metal prongs, to which he laughs and announces he died at Gettysburg. Zachariah killed him, and he managed to figure out how to live forever. He planned to come back for Savannah and live with her forever. Tyler boasts that he’ll never tire and is immortal right as Savannah bumps into his table, knocking over his vials. One breaks in Savannah’s hands, and he screams that he needed that! He needed that to be undead! So now he has to kill Savannah. He grabs her, they struggle, and then he just kind of falls over? And is dead?
Cut back to the old woman, who reveals the person she’s been talking to all along was the skeleton of Tyler!!!! Aaaaah!!!!
Tyler is now a solider, she realized with sickening dread. And soldiers die!
I’m actually a huge fan of Southern Gothic so this could’ve been interesting, following post-war South as two girls struggled to make ends meet, being visited by a wealthy northerner who at first seems altruistic but slowly reveals his true intentions. It definitely shares elements from a lot of gothic literature, from the weird kind of but kind of not incestuous relationship between Tyler and Lucy to the strange servants who warn of danger, but it doesn’t actually go anywhere. Like the previous book, the whole North-South conflict is glossed over. Tyler and Zachariah are said to go to West Point, and I don’t know much about the lives of military men before the Civil War, but these things don’t happen overnight. You think there’d be some conflict there before war is broken out. A lot of things are super glossed over in this book.
Like I said, I don’t like this book. Everything from the characters, the plot, the subject matter, and the pacing was totally and completely off. I’ve enjoyed the Fear Sagas so far, especially where they expanded on the Fear family, but who even is Tyler Fier? Who even are these ladies? Where does this fit into our timeline? It’s bad, I hated it, and I’m going to have to give it one creepy doll out of five.