I’m still catching up on posting book reviews after Bad Moon Rising, so today I have a double feature that should please the horror fans out there (looking at you, Priscilla).
A young Black girl goes missing in the woods outside her white Rust Belt town. But she’s not the first—and she may not be the last. . . .
Liz Rocher is coming home . . . reluctantly. As a Black woman, Liz doesn’t exactly have fond memories of Johnstown, Pennsylvania, a predominantly white town. But her best friend is getting married, so she braces herself for a weekend of awkward and passive-aggressive reunions. Liz has grown, though; she can handle whatever awaits her. But on the day of the wedding, somewhere between dancing and dessert, the bride’s daughter, Caroline, goes missing—and the only thing left behind is a piece of white fabric covered in blood.
As a frantic search begins, with the police combing the trees for Caroline, Liz is the only one who notices a pattern: a summer night. A missing girl. A party in the woods. She’s seen this before. Keisha Woodson, the only other Black girl in school, walked into the woods with a mysterious man and was later found with her chest cavity ripped open and her heart missing. Liz shudders at the thought that it could have been her, and now, with Caroline missing, it can’t be a coincidence. As Liz starts to dig through the town’s history, she uncovers a horrifying secret about the place she once called home. Children have been going missing in these woods for years. All of them Black. All of them girls.
It’s your turn.
With the evil in the forest creeping closer, Liz knows what she must do: find Caroline, or be entirely consumed by the darkness.
Liz bid good riddance to her small hometown several years ago, moved to NYC, and never looked back. Now several years later, she and her fiance have recently split up, and she’s returning home to be a bridesmaid in best friend Mel’s wedding. Let’s just say Liz isn’t looking forward to the visit and plans to stay only a couple days. The relationship with her mother is strained at times, especially when she mentions Liz’s weight gain and presses her to talk about the breakup – she blames Liz. The nightmare begins at the wedding reception when Mel’s daughter/Liz’s goddaughter goes missing while Liz was supposed to be watching her.
It gets off to a slow start, but initially the story presents as a mystery – who took Caroline? Soon it’s revealed that for years young Black girls have gone missing at the same time every year. But every death has been declared an accident, runaway, troubled youth, etc. It was maddening that no one noticed the pattern even when the missing girls’ families complained and pleaded with law enforcement to do more. Small town racism is alive and well in Johnstown. And then it’s not just a missing persons story – something evil is behind the abductions.
Early on I honestly thought I’d pegged the culprit and decided I’d be pretty disappointed if it was that easy. I was wrong, but my suspicions continued until almost the end. The first part of the novel captivated me and made putting down the book nearly impossible, but the last twenty percent confused me at certain points. I wasn’t sure what was real, but I won’t go into it for spoilery reasons.
Judging by other reviews, readers either give Jackal enthusiastic thumbs up or a meh. The ending didn’t work as well for me, but the mystery itself is compelling. Be warned – you may never go into the woods again after reading this novel.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
An island oasis turns deadly when a terrifying legend threatens to kill off visitors one by one in this haunting novel from the highly acclaimed author of The Girl from the Well and the Bone Witch trilogy.
Pristine beaches, lush greenery, and perfect weather, the island of Kisapmata would be the vacation destination…if not for the curse. The Philippine locals speak of it in hushed voices and refuse to step foot on the island. They know the lives it has claimed. They won’t be next.
A Hollywood film crew won’t be dissuaded. Legend claims a Dreamer god sleeps, waiting to grant unimaginable powers in exchange for eight sacrifices. The producers are determined to document the evidence. And they convince Alon, a local teen, to be their guide.
Within minutes of their arrival, a giant sinkhole appears, revealing a giant balete tree with a mummified corpse entwined in its gnarled branches. And the crew start seeing strange visions. Alon knows they are falling victim to the island’s curse. If Alon can’t convince them to leave, there is no telling who will survive. Or how much the Dreamer god will destroy…
I’ve read other hair-raising horror novels by Chupeco, so I knew I was in for another chilling read with The Sacrifice.
Don’t let this beautiful island setting fool you. It’s an alluring disguise for the dangers that await these characters. The island reminded me a bit of the TV series Lost with its mysterious happenings, disembodied voices, and unsettling visions, all of which delighted me. Five lives have been claimed here, and folklore says three more deaths will follow. When a Hollywood film crew arrives, most of them hold no respect for local legends and beliefs, and the Phillipine locals refuse to talk to them. Only Alon agrees to work with them, mostly for their own protection.
Bizarre happenings occur almost immediately, and although it slows in some spots, pacing is pretty even. Once the bodies start dropping, you may wonder why the crew didn’t leave the island. It’s not that simple – the island keeps a firm grip on them. The setting isn’t the only culprit. Ambitious Hollywood execs who believe they hold the power soon find they’ve grossly miscalculated. I always love when Karma plays a part.
If you’re in the mood for macabre imagery, a cursed island, and tension-filled scenes, The Sacrifice nicely checks all those boxes.
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through Edelweiss. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.