It took me about five chapters to make up my mind whether I was enjoying this or not. It’s not that the beginning was particularly slow, either; it’s just that it didn’t slot into any of the regular YA-horror categories, and it took me a while to settle in to it.
Mark McIntyre’s been sent to Hudson Military Academy while his parents are in Paraguay because of his father’s job. He shows up at the Night Owl Club, popularly known as the Nightmare Club.
The Nightmare Club and its owners (Mr. Demos and his daughter Jenny) showed up in Joy Ride, but just to recap, it’s a teen club located in an old building in the woods. The building was at one point an orphanage, but that burned down (with the orphans inside) and now it’s rumoured to be haunted.
Mark has no friends at the military academy and he’s the only junior. He meets a couple of girls who attend the local high school, Cooper High, and he’s starting to like Laurie Frank when her brother shows up and punches him. Two other Cooper High guys come over to join the fight, and just as Mark’s thinking he’s doomed, two Hudson guys show up to back him up. They get thrown out for fighting, but now he has friends. Yay?
Just so you know going in, this book is entirely about groups of guys fighting, and later on they progress from vandalism through throwing bowling balls and then on up to shooting each other. Yeah.
Mark’s two new friends are Ken and creepy bossy guy Greg. Just from the back cover you already know Greg is a warlock, so: Greg is a warlock. He convinces Ken and Mark, and some other guys he recruits, to join a group called The Chessmen and each carry a chess piece at all times. Possibly I’ve just read too many novels, but the SECOND anyone proposed that I would assume they were evil and trying to control me via a chess piece.
But no, they all join up and start making trips to vandalize Cooper High School. The equivalent group of Cooper High guys vandalize them right the hell back.
In between rounds of this Mark’s still seeing Laurie, who tells him her brother Barry is obsessed with Hudson Military Academy guys because 1) Barry liked a girl named Traci, who 2) dated a Hudson boy named Wes, and then 3) they both disappeared.
The Cooper High Chessmen, who are being manipulated by an evil spirit, are convinced this means Wes murdered Traci. In fact, they keep having these meetings where they sit around vividly imagining/reliving her murder.
The coolest part of this book is when Laurie does a little research and discovers that Greg has been here before: a hundred years ago, when a rivalry between Hudson Academy and the orphanage led to the orphanage being burned down, and then a hundred years before that when war erupted between settlers and natives.
Greg is, as we know right from the back cover (and I actually hate how much I knew going in), a warlock involved in a “game” against an evil spirit.
All the actual power comes from the spirit, but just because it’s evil doesn’t mean it CHEATS or anything, so Greg’s actually won the last two rounds by having his chessmen kill the other side’s chessmen. But if he loses, his immortality will run out because…I don’t fully understand why. The spirit claims it needs to rest and recover and can’t be arsed keeping Greg alive once Greg loses, I think.
So it all comes down to actual combat in the woods, only Mark and Laurie have convinced Barry, and then his friends, to destroy their chess pieces and come see the place in the wood where Traci’s and Wes’ remains lie, both of them clearly having been killed by something else. So one side has disengaged, and they manage to hold off the Hudson guys and Mark fights Greg, and eventually Greg decays and everyone’s in hospital and the police are having to go with “mass hysteria” as their explanation.
In the end Mark’s parents show up to take him out of the military academy, but surprise! He tells them he wants to stay, because now he has friends.