This cover is absolutely gorgeous.
Title: Rage of Aquarius (Zodiac Chillers #1)
Author: Carol Ellis
Back Cover: THEIR DARE CHILLED BECKY TO THE BONE…But she did the deed–and plunged to her death. Now her Aquarius birthday is swiftly approaching. One by one, her friends receive messages foretelling their doom…And one by one, they begin to die. Is Becky killing her friends–from the other side? Or are they being sent to join her?
Recap: We open with a prologue. Eight teenagers are hanging out at one guy’s parents’ cabin, and they decide to hold hands and jump off a cliff into the lake. We get a bit of astrology-related chatter:
“Besides,” she added, “didn’t you say Aquarius is an air sign? Thought you’d be dying to try it.”
“Very cute, Diane,” Becky said. “Just like a Scorpio–stab me in the back.”p.3
Becky is scared, but the others grab her and drag her over the cliff anyway. But because she’s struggling, she lands wrong, hits her head on a rock, and drowns.
Our cast of characters:
- Becky, an Aquarius who’s into astrology. (I mean, the others sign-drop repeatedly, but supposedly she’s the one who was actually into it.)
- Brad, her boyfriend. He says Becky had a premonition of her death.
- Kara, her best friend.
- Tony, who will be Kara’s boyfriend by chapter two.
- Diane, a Scorpio, addicted to shopping and working part-time at the mall.
- Alex, Diane’s boyfriend…but not for long.
- E.J., actually named Edwin.
- Trish, who ominously mentions that it feels like “Becky never left us” at the end of chapter one.
Chapter one consists of the remaining seven teens meeting up to open a box Becky’s mother has given them. It’s full of poignant keepsakes: a stuffed toy, and “moon and star pendant” exactly like the one advertised on the covers of this book, a paperback on astrology that has all of their signs bookmarked…they distribute the items. It’s somewhere between “spooky” and “touching.” Alex and Diane snap at each other all through this scene.
And that’s foreshadowing, because after a brief scene of Kara and Tony studying and making out, we move on to school, and learn that Diane has dumped Alex. She’s at her locker, screaming about Alex sending her something, when Kara and Brad hear her. Alex has apparently left her a note saying she can “shop til she drops,” which is admittedly a weird thing to say to your ex. When Brad looks at the note he turns pale, because it’s Becky’s handwriting. Uh-oh. They all just assume that’s part of Alex’s prank/threat/whatever, which makes me wonder why they think their friend is a) a skilled forger and b) that much of an asshole.
Chapter three answers that question, because the boys are playing basketball, and Alex is being such an aggressive asshole that finally Tony tosses the ball over the fence, whereupon Alex attacks him and also punches E.J. So Brad and E.J. haul Alex off Tony, and Brad accuses him of sending “that sick note,” but Alex denies having sent it. Brad shivers, because Alex sounds like he means it.
Diane works at the ice cream shop in the third-floor food court at Rocky Ridge mall. In chapter four, her boss leaves her alone to close up. Because of a rush of customers right before closing, the mall is deserted by the time she gets the shop cleaned up and locked. She walks through the mall to the escalator (the one near the food court is under repair), and keeps thinking she hears footsteps. A display of mannequins spooks her, and I sympathize. Then, near the other escalator, she slips on a wet floor (and assumes it was just cleaned). When she regains her balance something slams into her from behind, sending her into the rail (which is ALSO under repair), and she crashes through to the fountain below. She’s holding the note from Becky (that’s literally how she catches herself thinking of it. “the note from Becky”) when she falls, which is a nice morbid touch.
The next chapter consists of the funeral, and Brad having a vivid nightmare in which Becky tells him, “I want my friends, Brad.” In the dream Brad tries to save Diana, grabbing her once she’s fallen through the safety rail, but Becky pries his fingers loose. Effectively creepy. I also have to say a word of appreciation for the funeral: it adds a note of realism to see the characters REACT and FEEL SAD instead of just kind of shrugging off the deaths of their friends.
Trish and Kara are in the library, working on research papers. Kara is wondering why Tony hasn’t shown up yet–he was supposed to meet her–and Trish is theorizing that the note everyone thinks Alex sent Diane might actually have been from Becky. You know, since it was Becky’s handwriting and it was signed with her zodiac sign. Meanwhile Alex is in his garage, working on his car, when he finds another note. Someone hits him over the head and he passes out (or dies?).
Brad shows up in the library, and tells the girls about his dream. He invites them to come with him to visit Alex and ask him about the note. Tony finally shows up, and he and Kara take off. Trish and Brad go get E.J., and then they find Alex in his garage–sitting in his car with the engine running. While Brad looks around for another note, E.J. breaks the window and turns the engine off. Trish has phoned 911, and Alex is still alive. Meanwhile Kara is telling Tony about the ghost theory, and he shuts it down, seeming annoyed. Then they hear sirens and a police car and ambulance speed past them, and they run to Alex’s house. Trish tells them Alex tried to kill himself.
He’s still alive as chapter nine begins, but by the time they all reach Kara’s house (Tony and Brad argue about the ghost thing along the way) and phone the hospital, he’s died. The next morning Kara’s mother sends her to school so she won’t “brood,” but does at least suggest she talk to a counselor. Kara assures her she’s not going to copy Alex, but privately she thinks there’s no way she’s going to share her feelings with some counselor who didn’t even know Alex. On the way to school she lets herself into Alex’s garage (ducking under the police tape to enter) to say goodbye. While she’s looking around for a rag to clean up the oil she’s knocked over, she finds the second note.
At school in chapter ten, Kara shows the note to Trish. Trish really truly believes Becky sent the notes, because although they didn’t mean to hurt her, they all know they killed Becky. Then she opens her locker, and a note slides out. It turns out to be an invitation to E.J.’s Valentine’s Day party, only since the “invitation” consists of a drawing of a heart with an arrow through it, I can see how it could be misinterpreted. Tony explains to Kara that they did them on his printer, then gets bitter and weird and shreds a napkin. Okay.
I had to read chapter eleven twice, because it segued so smoothly from the “decorating for the party” scene to the “actual party” scene that I kept thinking it all happened on the same day even though the first sentence says otherwise. Clearly that first sentence was written for people like me. Anyway. Tony is helping E.J. debug his computer when Brad shows up with party decorations. Just before they leave the bedroom, E.J. gets an ominous message on his computer, telling him to “save the last dance” for someone. The next night at the party the lights go out.
New chapter! E.J. goes into the little off-limits room with the fuse box that’s missing a cover and has a bunch of exposed wires in it, and there is NO NEED WHATSOEVER FOR ME TO FINISH THIS SENTENCE.
When chapter thirteen begins it’s been four days since E.J.’s funeral, and honestly this book is getting slightly depressing. Kara and Trish are in Trish’s bedroom, discussing the ghost, which Trish still believes in. Kara starts morbidly imagining being the only one among her friends left alive, and I don’t honestly blame her.
She walks home and Tony is waiting for her; her mother is out, and Kara starts to feel nervous being alone with Tony. He gets mad every time she mentions Becky. She’s actually relieved when he leaves, and when she wakes up the next morning from a nightmare, she’s remembering that when Becky died, it was Tony who’d said, “We’re all guilty!” The book is fairly strongly hinting he’s the one killing everyone, which is enough to convince me he’s innocent.
Chapter fourteen opens with Trish on the phone to Tony, pretending she needs to know what the French assignment is but really just wanting to talk to someone because she’s home alone. After she lets Tony get back to his own homework, she toys with the idea of calling Kara again. But then the phone rings, and IT’S BECKY.
Trish makes a run for it but a car runs her down.
Good news! She’s still alive in chapter fifteen, and Kara and Brad are visiting her. Later Tony also shows up. Kara’s been avoiding Tony because she’s starting to suspect him. Trish wakes up and tells them about the phone call from Becky, and Tony turns pale and rushes out of the hospital room.
Alone in his room, Tony paces and reads something on his computer (but we don’t get to see what).
Kara’s mother is worried that Kara and Tony have broken up, but not so worried that she stays home with her daughter or anything. Instead she arranges to go to a movie, leaving her daughter home to, presumably, think about her rapidly-decreasing pool of friends. Lady, weren’t you worried about her back after Alex’s “suicide”? Anyway, Kara glances through the mail on the kitchen table, and finds her own note.
So now it’s Saturday and Kara is at the hospital.
It was Saturday, February nineteenth.
Kara bit her lip as she remembered Becky’s last birthday. Kara had thrown a surprise party for her. Angel food cake with blue-green frosting, Becky’s favorite color. The favorite of people born under the sign of Aquarius.p. 131
Trish is having an x-ray, and Kara hilariously tries to calm herself down by reminding herself that “she’s not dead. Yet.” Brad shows up, and he’s also got a note.
Kara starts to tell Brad her suspicions, but before she can say anything he guesses that she suspects Tony. They get in Brad’s car because he suggests they go talk to Tony, and Kara’s bright enough to remember that he just said Tony wasn’t home, but goes along with it when Brad says he thinks Tony’s probably at the cabin. DON’T GET IN THE CAR too late, she’s in the car. To be fair, she’s kind of distracted by the mention of the cabin because that’s where Becky died.
There’s no sign of Tony at the cabin, but Kara suggests they go inside anyway and warm up before the drive home. Kara finds a photograph of Becky on the wall of the cabin, and then realizes there are smaller photos of Becky surrounding the big one, and THEN sees there are astrological charts pinned to the wall around he photos. I’m sure it would be very disturbing in real life, but I laughed until I was in tears. Ellis gets full points for “most dramatic inclusion of astrology so far in this series.”
Brad steps back into the room in chapter nineteen and Kara shows him the wall, because she thinks it’s proof that Tony is the killer. Brad stares at the pictures, shaking, and then the door to the cabin flies open and it’s Tony. Tony attacks Brad, and Kara tries to stop him, saying they’ll get him “help.”
While Tony is distracted by the understandably upsetting news that Kara thinks he’s a murderer, Brad pins him down and Kara HANDS HIM THE ROPE TO TIE TONY UP. I’m officially disappointed in her. Tony tells her to run, and that the whole cabin scene is a trick, but Brad says, “It’s not a trick. It’s Becky.” So in the space of a single page Kara realizes her mistake. I guess I’m not all that disappointed in her.
I’m not even remotely disappointed in this book, because it delivers an even more ridiculous bit of shoehorned-in astrology for my enjoyment:
She stared at Brad and saw madness in his light blue eyes.
Gemini, she thought. Brad’s a Gemini.p. 149
So by the end of the chapter she’s cornered in a bedroom, having tried and failed to get out the front door or break a window, and Brad’s standing in the doorway with a butcher knife.
Chapter twenty opens to Brad lighting candles all over the place, while Tony and Kara are both tied to chairs. like that one Hardy Boys cover that was an erotic awakening for so many people. Brad is delighted that this time he can explain (he didn’t get a chance to explain to the others), and monologues at length about how:
- he saved all his phone messages from Becky, which is how he did the phone call to Trish,
- the astrological charts he’s got pinned all over the wall prove that the alignment of the stars meant that Becky was DESTINED to die, and
- now that it’s her birthday the stars are perfect and “the doorway is open” for them to join her.
Okay, kudos: this book has succeeded in making astrology sound creepy.
Chapter twenty-one is from Tony’s POV, and tells us a bunch of stuff that’s obvious by now: he suspected Alex, knew it wasn’t a ghost and was annoyed by that, finally worked out it was Brad, etc. Then Brad gets them to stand up, and I realize they weren’t tied TO the chairs; their hands were just tied and they were sitting in chairs. Significantly less erotic than the Hardy Boys, then. Tony leads them up to the cliff, right to the edge where they jumped off last summer.
Kara carefully hides the fact that she’s starting chapter twenty-two with her hands free, having worked them loose. While Brad gazes at the stars, as one does when one is an astrologically-obsessed killer planning a surprise party for his dead girlfriend, she nudges Tony and lets him see her hands. Then she rushes at Brad, knocking the knife from his hands. Brad knocks Tony over, and tries to get the knife back. Tony gets up, hands somehow free now, and then Brad manages to fall off the cliff while reaching for the knife.
He’s hanging from the ledge, and Tony and Kara try to pull him up, but before they can he says…no, let me quote this.
His pale blue eyes glittered excitedly in the moonlight.
“I’ll say hi to Becky for you,” he told them.
Then he let go of the rock.pp. 168-169
Comments: This is the first entry in the series, but the third one I’ve read, and it’s possibly the best one so far. I mean, no one threw a shark at anyone, so that was disappointing. But it did a nice job of maintaining the “maybe it’s a ghost” premise for at least half the book, which I appreciated.
This is less ridiculous than Twisted Taurus was, and more standard “this could be a Point Horror” fare, except with a lot of random astrology. The in-book product placement for the necklace was interesting. Did any other series give away costume jewellery?
There’s an actual body count, but by the second death I was LOLing inappropriately. Sorry. It’s just the “falling from the top floor of the mall” was so perfectly mid-90s, and I never quite recovered. The story was still gripping enough that I had to finish, though. Sometimes a whole bunch of cliched teen deaths are just what you need, you know?