Katie Carrollton and her friends decide to spend the first party of their senior year at an old house, recently acquired by her mother’s real estate company. The party is set for early October, so preparations begin. First and foremost, they have to gain access to the house without Katie’s mother’s knowledge. Once that’s done, the celebration is on. As the night progresses, the partiers experience unexplainable events. They become the targets of nameless supernatural foes, and their lives are now in danger. Horrific attacks force each party guest to face his or her deepest, darkest fears. Katie soon learns she has a connection to the mysterious house; her ancestors once owned it. Due to frightful occurrences, her own newly realized gifts awaken and could help them stay alive. Katie’s unknown family secrets are the key to saving her friends-friends who will be forever changed by this night of terror.
Villains Done Right
I love that Kessell made “it” into a proper noun, that “It” is a tangible creature/demon/shapeshifter when we meet him. Making the unseen force a proper noun intensified the fear of its presence because it validated that the characters weren’t hallucinating but actually fighting for their lives.
The mercilessness of It was also what riled me up. My favorite villains are always the ones who reflect the Devil, and Kessell’s antagonist did so savagely. The excerpt below was one of the most gruesome fictional pains I have ever experienced. Kessell’s writing, though simplistic, invoked all the right visceral emotions to bring pain to life:
“Something on the wall was burning through his clothing to his flesh. He tried to move away from the wall, but it tore at his flesh as he moved.” (page 104)
Mercilessness in an antagonist abolishes comfort in readers. In a traditional slasher-themed story, we’re guaranteed that the main character will live to see the end of the movie and perhaps beyond. When you strip your villain of mercy, they become ruthless and no one is safe, and that doom, that unpredictable fate induces a surreal fear that real villains feed off of. Kessell nailed this technique, creating a successfully horrifying villain.
“It” is a demon, and Kessell’s development of the character proves it.
- “It” collects souls through fear, which so do the demonic. That is sort of a common theme among fallen angels.
- When Katie realizes the demon has no name because Satan never gave it one, that also plays into demonology. Knowing a demon’s name does not cause an exorcism despite The Conjuring 2 teaching you this. Commanding by Jesus Christ that a demon reveal its name weakens the demon, and by confessing its name the exorcist has gained a small point of advantage over the demon. For Kessell to integrate this detail is beautiful.
- A really great detail—and I’m not sure if Kessell did this intentionally—but when the characters see It, it’s often that only one character sees It at a time. In demonology, this tactic is used by the demonic to isolate their victim. I was impressed Kessell included this.
- Though the demon shapeshifted into characters and fears, the demon couldn’t manifest as God, which is also accurate in demonology. As Jesus, sure. As God Himself, never.
If we’re gonna talk religious accuracy, I have to call out the magic. Now remember that this is pure fiction, and though there are realistic principles related to the demon “It”, the book is still make believe. But from my perspective, I lost a little gusto when Katie referred to magic and summoned the power at the end from within herself. The whole point of accessing the Trinity, of calling upon God is because we understand His power through the Holy Spirit in us is how we are saved. So for Katie to call upon God and then at the end seem to have an ethereal power just sort of killed God’s thunder for me. Just a small complaint, honestly. The book was fabulous, but if I could delete any detail, this would be it.
The book played out like a Halloween movie. Getting to know this diverse group of teens, getting into this predicament for a Halloween party, everyone’s having a good time, the tables on your romantic bets are turning and then BAM!
“The breaking of his neck ended the torture that he had faced at the hand of It that had no name.” (page 139)
At the snap of your fingers (or someone’s neck), we’re facing off with this seemingly unconquerable evil. The whole book changes, and you fear for every character’s life. It’s not just at that first death either that you’re paralyzed with terror. It’s throughout the whole book. To the last page, you have no idea what Kessell has up her sleeve. I was pleasantly surprised by the brutality, and grateful for some originality. You’ll never see any of it coming. Not even what really happens to Jay.
I enjoyed the book, but when I read that Katie fought with the power of God, I loved the book. I will definitely be reading Book 2!