Cain’s first novel is modest but well-made YA fantasy-mystery.
Teenagers Eli and Hunter have been friends since infancy. After Eli runs across a dead man in a forest clearing near their quiet suburb of Meadowview Acres, the boys try to investigate the awful scene—only to inadvertently fall under the power of the same ancient curse that killed the man in the clearing. When the curse of the Rock of Varuupi follows them home, and fresh horrors begin to arise in their pleasant neighborhood, the boys work with their friends—tween Bug Hamilton and her surrogate big sister, Shasta Port—to uncover the history of the curse and how it can be lifted. The kid investigators are aided by a professor who tells them of curses of ancient tribes and the legends of how they might be undone, but at the same time, grisly evil invisibly stalks through their community and among their loved ones. Eli, Hunter, Bug and Shasta must race against time to neutralize the deadly curse and restore peace to Meadowview Acres. The clean, professional text is, for the most part, kept at a YA-appropriate level, though the action can be a bit dark, with gruesome moments sprinkled throughout—multiple brain hemorrhages, building fires and lots of death. (There are also a few too many mentions of Hot Slice! pizza.) The appealing characters have just enough dimensionality to follow who’s who, and the plot refreshingly focuses more on problem-solving and cooperation than on infighting among the group. Little lessons are sprinkled throughout the book, as when science teacher Mr. Just explains a bit of science: “Hydrofluoric acid is highly corrosive, it can dissolve glass with no problem. That’s why it’s stored in heavy plastic.” The novel’s epilogue would be better served as the opening chapter of the next book in the promised series, because it ends with a somewhat frustrating unresolved cliffhanger.
Understated but quite enjoyable.