The summer of 1989 brought terror to the town of Shadows Creek, Florida in the form of a massacre at the local carnival, Cirque Berserk. One fateful night, a group of teens killed a dozen people then disappeared into thin air. No one knows why they did it, where they went, or even how many of them there were, but legend has it they still roam the abandoned carnival, looking for blood to spill.
Thirty years later, best friends, Sam and Rochelle, are in the midst of a boring senior trip when they learn about the infamous Cirque Berserk. Seeking one last adventure, they and their friends journey to the nearby Shadows Creek to see if the urban legends about Cirque Berserk are true. But waiting for them beyond the carnival gates is a night of brutality, bloodshed, and betrayal.
Will they make they make it out alive, or will the carnival’s past demons extinguish their futures?
Book 4 in the Rewind-or-Die series: imagine your local movie rental store back in the ’70s, ’80s, and ’90s, remember all those fantastic covers. Remember taking those movies home and watching in awe as the stories unfolded in nasty rainbows of gore, remember the atmosphere and textures. Remember the blood.
The debut novella by Jessica Guess is a perfect one sitting book. The premise is nine teenagers break into an abandoned amusement park, where there was a mass murder in 1989, because it is supposed to be haunted. The book runs two timelines, one in the present (with the nine kids breaking in), and one that explained the events leading up to the 1989 murders. For a novella that is only 111 pages long, there is a ton of story and a ton of characters. When I saw the wide scope this novel was bringing, I was fully prepared to be disappointed in the characters, the clarity, and the resolutions. The truth is that Cirque Berserk is done in such a skillful way that there is a great deal of satisfaction in the entire story arc and the ending. The structure is alternating chapters between characters and timelines, but somehow, the novella is clear, coherent, and compelling.
Cirque Berserk on the surface is a fun haunted amusement park horror story. There are multiple bloody slaying, and it has the great slasher vibe from teenage 80s horror films. Beneath the surface, there is a great love story between Rochelle and Daniel, where the nature of long term relationships and commitment to a partnership are explored. Their relationship is almost sweet in a way that juxtaposes all of the violence surrounding them. Another interesting aspect is the social commentary through the relationship between Rochelle and Brian. After Brian is rejected by her, he continues to try to win her affection with trinkets and nice words. The whole idea of being a rejected male being mad at the girl for not liking him is a story that runs deep in society and the history of civilization. Guess portrays Brian’s response to her rejection as a typical male response ingrained in most men, that if you get rejected, you can reverse it. I love how Guess handles this situation, and we need to be aware that Brian’s behavior should not longer be accepted. Cirque Berserk also brings up race in horror, where the characters of color are stereotyped as sacrificial. Rochelle, the main character of all of the characters, is a black woman, and without spoiling anything, she does make it to the final showdown. This is a great addition to the canon of horror that is starting to break the tropes that need to be broken. Besides being such a good story and good horror novel, I give it five stars for the emotional and social consciousness as well.
This is a novella I recommend everyone to read. There is something great for everyone, and Guess’s skills and talents shines to the point where she had the potential to be one of the leading writers in horror. I cannot recommend Cirque Berserk enough.