A mysteriously ill boy fights off undead dogs in this spooky middle-grade novel.
Lucas Trainer doesn’t want to leave his home in the city. But his mom just inherited a country house from a great-great-uncle, and his parents hope that moving to the woods will help Lucas breathe. He suffers from a strange illness they’ve nicknamed the Dark Cloud, one without a diagnosis or consistent treatment. When they arrive they learn that the house is actually a rambling mansion, constantly in the process of renovation and expansion by a crew of eerie construction workers. The house and surrounding woods are also definitely haunted. There are inexplicable blasts of heat, demonic roaming beasts, a probably-dead gray boy, and a pack of ghostly dogs. With the help of his new friends Bess, white like the Trainer family, and a shutterbug nicknamed Lens, described as black, Lucas is determined to unravel the strange goings-on. Uneven characterization, jerky pacing, and incomplete worldbuilding all distract from a potent idea. Similarly, the depiction of Lucas’ strange chronic illness feels added on when convenient, but it doesn’t add to the texture of his story, while the supernatural happenings feel inadequately wrapped up by the end.
Middle-grade horror is a difficult genre; Salane’s attempt will appeal only to some. (Horror. 8-12)