dark forces the dollWell, this was disturbing in every possible way.

I’m creeped out by dolls anyway (even perfectly ordinary dolls are a little bit spooky to me), so the “this is what Chelsea Clinton would look like if she were inanimate and also possessed” thing going on in the cover art really freaks me out.

The book lives up to the cover.

Cassie, our heroine, is a doll collector. She persuades her father to go to the State Fair a day early, because she’s eager to share every possible moment with her long-distance farmboy boyfriend, Jack.

Cassie’s attending the fair to enter her doll collection in a competition, and Jack’s there, because his kid brother, Nate, has entered his cutting horse, Pebbles.

Jack and Cassie met at the previous year’s fair, and Cassie’s father is an agricultural agent, so we’re in wholesome rural territory here.

A fortune-teller warns Jack that he’ll have to be strong, and sees “very black clouds” in Cassie’s immediate future. The presence of a fortune-teller on the “good” side of things temporarily ruined my theory that this entire series sprang out of someone’s desire to write a whole bunch of Chick-Tract style religious fears into a horror series, but she’s…awfully Christian for a fortune-teller:

She hesitated. “Do you believe in God?”

The question surprised Jack. “Yes, I do,” he replied a bit warily.

“So do I.” She stared at him. “Why do you look astonished?”

“But I thought—I thought you believed in—”

“The occult?” she prompted.

“Right,” Jack responded, nodding.

“But why is that so strange? The occult is concerned with supernatural forces. And what is more supernatural than God?” (p. 26)

I mean, I’m pretty sure Jack Chick would still say she was putting her soul at risk by reading Tarot cards, but that’s pretty Christian-ish for a random fortune teller. When you add in the part where the Protestant minister who does the end-of-book exorcism is her adoptive father, it kind of reinforces my theory that these skewed heavily towards Christian superstition/indoctrination territory.

Anyway. Cassie sees a doll being offered as a prize for a dart game, and immediately becomes obsessed with it. Jack promises to win it for her. When the game finally opens another guy almost wins it for his girlfriend, but Cassie distracts him by throwing her darts into his leg. Yeah. I’m not sure if that’s meant to be “the evil doll is influencing Cassie,” or if it’s “the doll wants to be with Cassie because Cassie is already a little bit evil.”

Pebbles wins her competition, but then something awful happens. There really should be warnings for animal deaths in books. This one is particularly horrible. I only teared up a little when the cutting horse (it’s a skill set, not a breed) went crazy at the sight of Cassie and her evil doll, ending up breaking her leg and having to be killed, but I flat-out BAWLED at this part:

Hearing something, Jack looked up. He recognized the man who had been sitting in front of him in the grandstand. He was holding a gangly colt in his arms.

He put the colt down, and the little mare stood on shaky legs.

Puzzled, Nate looked at the colt, then at the man, who seemed somewhat embarrassed.

“Son, this here colt is a direct descendant of Powder Puff. Her daddy’s that stallion Warrior. I want you to train her.” The man paused. “We’ll go halves if you’ll do it.”

Nate stood up, and reached out to the colt. The little mare nuzzled him. Nate could not help smiling.

“Will you do it, boy?” the man asked.

“Is she weaned?” Nate asked.

“We lost her mom, she’s being bottle fed.”

“What’s her name?” Nate asked.

“Ain’t named her yet,” the man answered. “You do that.” (p. 58)

Also this:

“Yes, the working cowboys. They want a stone, and they have decided on what it should say—that is, with your approval, of course.”

Nate started to say something, but the fair official continued, “They want the marker to say, ‘Pebbles—the best damned cutting horse we ever saw.'” (p. 60)

Other bad things happen—Cassie’s other dolls get destroyed, and her and her fathers trailer is trashed (except for the doll. DUN DUN DUN)—but since I was still literally crying over the dead horse and the kindness of various strangers, the increasing creepiness had less of an effect on me than you’d expect.

Also, Cassie is being bitchy and horrible. I know this is meant to be because she’s starting to be possessed, but honestly if someone got a horse killed right in front of me and then snapped at me every time I criticized her increasingly-large (yes, it’s growing) doll with it’s creepy human hair, I’d just abandon her to her evil hobby. Jeez. So I guess I’d be less than useful in a case of possession.

Aside from growing, the doll is also changing its hair and eye colour until it looks like Cassie.

Eventually Jack confides in Maria, who drives them out to visit an elderly minister. He turns out to be her father, and also an experienced exorcist. Cue typical exorcism scene.

The demon tempts him by pretending the minister’s dear friend and co-exorcist, a now-deceased Catholic priest, sold his soul and is “here with me.” The minister recognizes bullshit, proceeds with the exorcism, and dies in the end—but he dies untainted, and is reunited with his dead friend, so…happy ending? I guess?

Also Cassie’s saved from the demon inhabiting the doll, although I found it slightly hard to care.