I really, truly wish there were more books in this series. I love the whole “haunted inn” concept, and “scary murderous hippies” is definitely an interesting vibe.
Actually, there are few links to the scary murderous hippies in this book. I was disappointed, tbh, because that was one of my favourite things about the first book. On the other hand, I’ve recently been reading Turn Off Your Mind, and then someone linked me to this page two weeks ago, so maybe I’ve had enough murderous hippies for now? Quite possibly.
Characters: I had to look them up to write this part, because for some reasons the names are totally forgettable. (And it’s not just me: at one point the author accidentally calls Tessa “Sierra,” so even he can’t keep them straight.)
Tessa Gilbert is the main character, and she’s nice. I mean, “nice” is her defining characteristic. We could also go with bland, inoffensive, or if we’re feeling charitable, kind. She does make the effort to actually include the one girl who isn’t part of her friend group; I liked that about her.
Brittany Graves, friend #1, has a boyfriend called Andrew, but that doesn’t stop her from flirting with Nick, the bellboy.
Sierra Gams, friend #2, has been kissing Andrew behind Brittany’s back. Tessa knows because she saw them, but she doesn’t want to be the one to tell Brittany. Fair enough. But yikes, imagine spending a weekend sharing a room with these people.
Okay, in case that isn’t an awkward enough social situation, there’s also a fourth girl, Allie Burkhart, whom none of them even know. Her mother works with Tessa’s mother, who persuaded Tessa to invite her along.
I would rather chew my own arm off than spend a weekend with two people who’re fighting and a third one I barely know.
We also see a little bit of Sebastian, the hippie caretaker of the Arcadia Inn. We’ve met him before.
Recap: Tessa and her friends (and Allie) are on a bus, heading to the Arcadia for the weekend. They’re only able to afford this because the New Arcadia gave them a great rate, which Tessa assumes is because September is the off-season. The bus dumps them by the side of a wooded road.
Is it just me, or does Allie sense she’s in a teen horror novel?
“I once read a book about a hotel that was filled with ghosts,” Allie suddenly volunteered.
Tessa and her friends looked at the small girl. Brittany frowned. Allie had barely talked during the long bus ride. Tessa had assumed Allie was just shy, but now she admitted to herself that there did seem to be something peculiar about Allie.p. 3
Allie thinks she spots “a big black fuzzy thing” through the trees. Shortly thereafter Sebastian shows up, looking for his dog, Fluffy. He’s got the dog’s leash in his hand, which Allie says is a whip. Exactly what sort of weekend getaway did she think this was?
At the Inn Sarah checks them in; sadly, this is the last we’ll see of her in this book. She tells them dinner is at seven in the dining room, and then Nick the bellboy shows up. He escorts them to room 318, and Brittany asks him when he gets off work, and invites him to drop by and see if they’re awake. Sierra reminds Brittany of Andrew’s existence, Brittany snaps back that Sierra would probably tell him, Sierra says maybe she would…you can already sense what’s going on, but just in case you haven’t guessed, Tessa thinks about how yesterday she caught Sierra and Andrew kissing.
Tessa takes her make-up bag to the bathroom, and in a pointless cliffhanger worthy of R. L. Stine, screams at the top of her lungs because — next chapter–there’s a small spider in the bathroom.
Turns out she’s terrified of them. Brittany grabs a shoe, but Sierra doesn’t want it killed. Allie gets it to crawl onto a room-service menu so she can put it outside. I thought her willingness to do this might be significant, but no. She also freaks them out by describing the spider’s eating habits:
“Winter’s coming,” Allie said. “All the insects a spider normally feeds on will soon be gone. It has to store up, or else it’ll die.”
“Insects for food…yuck!” Brittany shivered.
“She sucks their juices,” Allie said nonchalantly.p. 16
Again, I really thought Allie’s spider empathy was going to be relevant. But it wasn’t. Also, did Brittany fail first grade or something? Why is she only now finding out what spiders eat?
While Tessa and Brittany hang out in the lobby waiting for the spider extraction, Brittany confides that she thinks Sienna likes Andrew because she’s heard rumours. Tessa says people make up rumours all the time. Okay, I get not wanting to be the one to tell Brittany what’s going on, but actively dissuading her from figuring it out on her own feels dishonest to me.
When they get tired of waiting for the elevator to go down to dinner (and listening to scampering overhead, possibly from a raccoon in the attic), they decide to take the stairs. Oddly, they choose the stairs at the end of the hall, not the ones nearest their room. The door shuts behind them, locking them in to a pitch dark stairwell, and none of the doors on the way down are unlocked, either.
Tessa falls off the stairs at ground level, presumably dangling over an open pit to the basement? It doesn’t matter because we never find out. Sebastian hears them banging on the door and lets them in, but not before Allie nearly freezes to death, because it’s icy cold in the stairwell. We never find out why that is, either.
I wonder if maybe the author had other books planned, and all these elements would have turned up (and actually made sense) in them, but then the series got cancelled?
Allie tells Sebastian they heard noises from the attic, and he tells them to never go into the attic. As soon as he’s gone Allie suggests they check out the attic. Really, Allie? Really?
On the way back to their room they run into Nick and a guy he introduces as Martin. Martin assures them there’s nothing in the attic, and says maybe they’re hearing raccoons on the roof.
Later Allie slips out of the room, determined to look in the attic. Tessa, being either a ridiculously loyal new friend or a huge idiot, goes with her. The attic is full of old furniture, including candlesticks that will be important later, and a huge spiderweb that Allie insists is beautiful. Can you guess what’s making the attic noises?
Tessa can’t. But then when they’re back in the room she falls asleep and has a nightmare that she’s on the stairs to the attic, and tarantulas are chasing her. So my theory is, she does know what’s in the attic, subconsciously.
They survive and return to the room. Tessa suggests they play Truth or Dare, which. . . holy hell, Tessa. I guess that’s one way to get Brittany and Sierra to either resolve their situation or flat-out kill each other.
Allie says she’s never played Truth or Dare before. She doesn’t even know how to play. Again, I really though all this “Allie doesn’t fit in” stuff was going somewhere, and she’d turn out to be a ghost or a monster or something. But no. She’s a really, really enthusiastic Truth or Dare player, though:
“Okay,” Allie said. “If you had to kill one person in this room, who would you pick?”
Brittany looked surprised. Even Tessa was a little shocked. Allie’s question was both blunt and brutal, which of course made it perfect for truth or dare. Since she was a beginner at the game, though, the other girls were a bit stunned that Allie had come up with it.
Brittany’s eyes shifted from Tessa to Allie and back. Finally her gaze leveled on Sierra. “I guess I’d kill you, Sierra.”p. 81
Then it’s Sierra’s turn, and she chooses dare, unwilling to answer whatever question Brittany’s planning to ask her. Brittany dares her to go into the attic, and tells her to bring back a candlestick to prove she didn’t just wait on the stairs.
Nick and Martin interrupt this by showing up. It’s almost two in the morning, so Tessa turns down Martin’s offer to “party.” He turns nasty for a while, refusing to leave the room, but when all the girls agree they want him to leave he finally does. It’s a tense scene. Tessa even tries to call the front desk to have him removed, but there’s no answer. Martin tells them he’s on front desk duty every night, and he “smiles triumphantly” when he says it. Creepy.
When they finally leave, Brittany insists Sierra follow through on the dare. Tessa tries to talk her into dropping it, since they’re all tired, but Brittany insists, and also insists she go alone.
After five minutes Sierra comes back, crying, and saying something touched her leg. Brittany makes her go back to the attic because she didn’t bring a candlestick as proof. Brittany is a colossal bitch, and I don’t know why the other three don’t tell her where to shove her candlestick.
Sierra goes back, though, and doesn’t return.
After ten minutes Tessa insists Brittany go up to find out what’s happened to Sierra. Brittany is afraid to go alone, so they all go.
The door shuts behind them, and they cant open it. We never exactly find out why not, but circumstantial evidence suggests it’s Martin, because later on he (unconvincingly) locks a trapdoor. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
First we have to endure several chapters of them wandering around in the dark, finding Sierra’s shoe, lighting candles and nearly falling asleep next to them, finding a giant spider web, finding the skeleton of a dog, finding Sierra’s other shoe. . . I don’t mean to make this sound tedious; it was actually kind of fun to read, although by this point it was pretty obvious what was going on. But this not much to say about it, other than that they spend the second half of the book wandering around in the attic.
Although speaking of Sierra’s shoes, there was one brief moment when I wondered if I’d gotten it wrong, and the thing in the attic was Martin, doing something unexpectedly perverse:
“It hasn’t been here long,” Allie said, reaching down and touching it. “There’s no dust on it.”
“There’s something on it,” Tessa said. She could see some sort of film covering the shoe.
“Yes,” Allie said, rubbing her fingers together. “It’s sticky.”
Tessa reached down and touched the shoe with her finger. A moist, sticky, silvery film came off.p. 114
It’s just spiderweb, though. Which you’d think Tessa would recognize, since she’s so afraid of spiders.
Somewhere in there Brittany also goes missing, and Allie kind of goes near-catatonic with shock, saying that she saw the creature take Sierra but that she can’t describe it. And again: I really, really, REALLY thought this was going to mean something (specifically, that she was protecting the creature because she owned it, or was in league with it, or related to it somehow). But no.
Tessa finds Sierra’s body, wrapped in a cocoon, and FINALLY works out that there’s a giant spider in the attic. Then she finds Brittany’s body, half-wrapped, and Allie goes missing.
Then Tessa ALMOST escapes, because she finds a trap door. But while she’s dithering over how to rescue Allie, Martin looks up through the trapdoor. Somehow (after mocking her for a bit when she tells him her friends are dead) he reaches up and pulls it shut, and locks her in.
It’s extremely unconvincing. She’s over his head, looking down through a trap door! Why doesn’t she whack him over the head with the damned candlestick and climb out? Why doesn’t she just SIT DOWN and dangle her legs through the door, making it impossible for him to close it?
Finally the spider comes for Tessa, and she backs away. She gets in one hit (damaging its leg with the candle) before falling out the attic window to her death.
In the last (and my absolute favourite) scene of the book, Sebastian shows up in the attic, snaps a leash on the spider (Fluffy! It wasn’t a dog he had lost!), and takes her for a walk.
Final Thoughts: The biggest spider I’ve ever seen was the Huntsman that lived in our kitchen (and our garage and, briefly, our bathroom) when we were living in Australia; that was only the size of a man’s hand, and we were fond of it. So in a weird way, I can see how Sebastian might want to keep Fluffy. But really, she shouldn’t be allowed to eat the guests. I hate people who won’t control their pets. You’re single-handedly destroying the inn’s Michelin rating, Sebastian.
Although to be fair, he did tell them to never go in the attic. Maybe the guests that listen to Sebastian survive their weekends at the inn.
In all seriousness: this is my least favourite of the Nightmare Inn books. I loved it right until they went in the attic, and then it decayed into just “they each get killed by a spider,” which felt pointless. No one survives, but no one gets stuck at the inn as a ghost either. That sucked.
Also, nothing got resolved! We don’t find out 1) why Allie was so creepy; 2) whether Brittany and Sierra make up or claw each other’s eyes out; 3) what Martin’s deal is, or 4) why is there a locked outside staircase that ends in a sudden drop. “What’s in the attic?” was the least interesting part of this book, yet it’s the only question that got answered.