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Review: The Sacrifice Box - Martin Stewart

Genre: YA horror Published: Penguin Random House, january 2018 Rating: 3.5 stars

DISCLAIMER: The Sacrifice Box probably doesn’t deserve the rating I just gave it… “Objectively”, it’s not a good book. It’s pretty bad actually... Subjectively, I had a ton of fun and it was just what I needed, right now.

If you are reading this review, you have caught me in a moment of weakness. I’ve had a really rough week (maybe more like weeks), and I was in desperate need of a little guilty pleasure. Some people grab a horribly cheesy rom-com, some O.D. on chocolate and wine, I indulge in some horror. More specifically: bad horror. Youtuber Chris Stuckman (check him out if you enjoy film reviews) has coined a term that is perfect for those type of horror movies: hilariocity. Something that is such an atrocity that it becomes hilarious.

I said it in an update after 100 pages; it reads like a B-horror movie in bookform. The further I got into the book, the more I saw the resemblances. We will get to those similarities in a second; don’t worry.

The book starts off with great potential. A group of kids in the eighties find a mysterious box in the woods. Each of them sacrifices an item of great value to the box to cement their friendship and swear an oath: never come to the box alone, never open it after dark, never take back your sacrifice . Four years later a set of strange events starts to take place. Someone broke their oath, and now their sacrifices come back to haunt them. This first segment has some great eighties horror vibes and has the potential to be a pretty decent thriller. Then around the same 100-page-mark though, the novel completely derails and enters a realm of paranormal absurdity and eighties horror tropes. At this point it basically asks you to either get off the train, or just roll with it. If you roll with it, you are in for a treat… I’m about to spoil something for you, but in all honesty, I would have liked to have known this before going in, so I could have prepared myself… Ready…?

THERE’S A KILLER TEDDYBEAR. Yup… Killer toys and reanimated zombie-animals. I’m actually laughing my ass off! Besides taking that Stephen King approach to trying to make innocent childhood icons creepy, it takes inspiration from more popular horror tropes, which is why I said it reads like a B-movie. It relies heavily on gore and classic imagery (crows, deer, the one mentioned in the spoilerpart) for its scares, and therefore it gets more chuckles and eyerolls out of me than anything else. Even in its style it mirrors its movie-counterpart. For example, during more tense scenes the novel will sort of “jump cut”, where it switches p.o.v. quickly to obscure what is happening. Chapters will end in “false jumpscares” sometimes, where we are left with a creepy image, only to find out that it was just a friend scaring them. At times I was wondering whether the book was being self-aware about it. There is a scene where one of the characters tells the groundskeeper (you know… the dude that happens to be a veteran when it comes to dealing with the entity they are up against, just so he can conveniently give you some sweet, sweet expositional dialogue about it) how he’s supposed to act, according to that archetype.

I was really hoping the book would go through with that tongue-in-cheek approach, as it’s really the only way you can go when your plot revolves around KILLER FREAKING TEDDYBEARS… Unfortunately, it takes itself very seriously and actually tries to claw its way out of guilty-pleasure-movie-territory, by adding deeper layers to the backstories of the characters and their friendship. To me, it didn’t succeed at that. It’s all delivered in a way that is too heavy-handed and again: more of the same clichés we have all seen before.

In all reality, it would have been so easy for me to pick this apart for all its faults: clichés galore, gore, pacing issues, writing that is at times pretty clunky… As an example of the latter: I was at first confused about the gender of certain characters, because of the way the author uses pronouns. In some scenes I thought the author referred to Sep as “she”, while he is supposed to be male. Upon rereading a few lines I’d realize the author was referring to his mother with “she”, but the way the sentence is set up is just very awkward. This happened multiple times during the story. Despite these flaws, I truly enjoyed myself too much on an “eighties-horror-guilty-pleasure-level” to judge it too harshly.

Would I recommend this book? I really don’t know. If I were to read it again, I’d probably be a lot harsher. That being said; it was the right book at the right time for me at the moment, and sometimes that’s all you need for a good time.

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