In Review: Scare Scape: The Midnight Door

It takes a while to get going, but when it does it's fun.

Scare Scape: The Midnight Door by Sam Fisher

Published by Scholastic Press, March 31, 2015. Paperback of 299 pages at $12.99. Also available as an ebook. Intended for ages 8 – 12, grades 3 – 7.

NOTE: I read an advanced copy, so any aspect of the novel may have changed by publication.

The cover: Using images from the Monster Deck within the book — 23 pages of monsters that are mentioned or appear in the story — created by Sam Bosma, sixteen of the creatures are shown. The coloring is as strong as the illustrations and this is a terrific tease to get young readers to pick this book up and check it out. The picture I’m using for this review is different from the cover on the book I received: Underneath the second picture in the second row (the Acid-Spitting Frog) is the author’s name, and the book is titled Scare Scape: The Midnight Door, not Scare Scape II. The cover was designed by Phil Falco and he has crafted an eye-catching cover. Overall grade: A

The premise: From the back cover, “When the town of Dimvale is overrun with two-headed mutant rats, Morton Clay knows that dark magic is to blame. And when his classmates get their hands on impossible gadgets like X-ray Specs and Antigravity Laser Cannons, he realizes the trouble is just beginning. Morton and his siblings, James and Melissa, are the only ones who can stop the chaos. But should they, if it means using forbidden magic themselves? As Morton delves deeper into Dimvale’s mysteries, he begins to suspect they have no other choice…” I really enjoyed the first book, Scare Scape, so I’m hoping this is just as good as that. Overall grade: A

The characters: The protagonists are again the Clay children, Morton, James, and Melissa, going from youngest to oldest. Morton is the one that all the characters turn to in a time of crisis, since he’s the one that’s familiar with John King’s Scare Scape comic books that caused so much trouble for them weeks ago. However, as the premise reveals, monsters from comic books are not the initial troubles, as it’s gadgets advertised in the comic books that seem to have become real. Morton knows the magic he thought they had stopped must still be around and he goes out on his own to find out where the source is, even if it means lying to his brother and sister. Even though a short amount of time has passed, James and Melissa seem much older, as they’re more integrated into school life, with Melissa even having a boyfriend. Morton’s best friend Robbie isn’t much help this time as he’s got something going on, so new friend Derek Howell is trying to be besties with him. Derek is trying to hard to impress Morton, and something happens with him that burns their fledgling friendship. The monsters of the this book don’t appear for some time, save the mutant two-headed rats, but they’re not that scary because they appear quickly in vast numbers and then disappear just as quickly. The gadgets aren’t scary, more intriguing devices than things used for evil, and they’re easily defeated once their master is revealed. The real villain of the piece was a surprise and what happens to this individual was neat, though it did deflate his menace somewhat. I liked the protagonists, but the antagonists were really lacking. Overall grade: B-

The settings: The Clays’ new home, once the abode of John King, is about a third of the action. It was explored thoroughly in the last book, but it still holds a secret for the children. The middle third of the book takes place at the school, which is described in generic terms, but, having worked in schools for over 22 years, they’re all pretty cookie cutter in their layouts. The action goes down primarily in the hallways and the bathrooms, where something quite frightening occurs on the ceiling (and it’s not gross, so don’t go there). The final setting of the book is in a book shop. Fisher does a really good with this location, as old book shops always seem to hold secrets, and this one has quite a doozy. Overall grade: A- 

The action: It takes a really long time for this book to start with the scares, as it seems that the story is never going to get beyond the terrible two-headed mutant rats that appear, then disappear, then appear, then disappear, then appear — you get the idea. For all the monsters of the first book, this one doesn’t use a wide variety until it’s too late. The threats of the gadgets pale in comparison to the beasts, and I can’t see readers getting scared with these devices. When the monsters do appear in numbers, which is about half way through, things improve, but it was slow going getting to them. Overall grade: C+

The conclusion: The true threat is revealed and dealt with, though a third book is heavily hinted at. I enjoy books, even in series/franchises, that have a solid conclusion. This leaves a possibility dangling and I wasn’t thrilled with that. Overall grade: B+

The final line: It takes a while to get going, but when it does it’s fun. This would be good reading for little ones who want a scare that’s not graphic. Good for reading under the covers. Overall grade: B

Patrick Hayes was a contributor to the Comic Buyer's Guide for several years with "It's Bound to Happen!" and he's reviewed comics for TrekWeb and TrekCore. He's taught 8th graders English for 20 years and has taught high school English for five years and counting. He reads everything as often as he can, when not grading papers or looking up Star Trek, Star Wars, or Indiana Jones items online.
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