Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers

If you asked ten-year-old Amy what her favorite book was, she would say Fear Street Sagas #2: House of Whispers. What was it about this specific Fear Street book that appealed to me? Was it the Civil War setting? Was it the rivalry between young sisters Hannah and Julia? The presence of three boys who exist for only a short scene and are never seen again? And speaking of boys, was it the love interest with a dark secret and an eyepatch?

Or, more likely, was it the use of Tarot cards, something I collect in my adulthood, as a plot device? Could it be the gore, something novel to a young girl just discovering death? While those last two contributed to my devotion to this book, the most obvious reason for my affection is that the main character is named “Amy.” 

Does this book hold up? Let’s explore ten-year-old Amy’s (the person, not the book character) favorite book and, maybe, along the way, remind me why I got a reputation for being creepy in school. 

a girl in a purple dress stares at the reader while a different girl falls out a window
Nellie was so excited to win a contest where a major publishing company steals your idea that she ran out the window to mail her entry.

In the fall of 1863, young Amy Pierce travels to live with her cousin, Angelica Fear, in New Orleans. That’s right, folks! We’re following the people who wanted to expand chattel slavery into the west! It’s not discussed in this book, but it does diminish character sympathy when I know they’re fine with people as property. 

The carriage driver warns Amy about the Fears and fulfills his role as the “Crazy Ralph” of the book. 

We meet Angelica Fear and her two daughters, Julia and Hannah. Julia is the timid one whom Amy immediately identifies with while Hannah is the more outgoing one. We also meet Nellie the Maid, who strongly resembles a slave, and it’s never addressed in the book, but the implication is there. 

It’s eleven pages before we have our first cliffhanger! I think that’s a record. Stine is exercising restraint in this one. It’s a face in the mirror! But it’s just Julia, who is coming into Amy’s room to be cryptic.

“Amy . . .” The girl hesitated for a moment. “I . . . Do not open your bedroom door at night when everyone is asleep.” Amy heard Julia’s voice crack. “No matter what you hear.”

“What? Why not?” Amy exclaimed.

“It is not safe.” Julia wrapped her arms around herself. “It is not safe.”

“I saw the shadows in the hall move,” Julia said. “They whirled into a black, smoky column filled with faces. Faces without eyes, faces without skin. Faces covered with oozing sores. Faces burned until they were black.”

That’s a pretty creepy thing to say, Julia. Cool, but creepy.

When Julia is finished creeping everyone out and leaves, Amy hears a noise behind her door. She ignores Julia’s warning ten minutes later and flings open the door.

There’s nothing. Of course, there’s nothing.

The next morning, Angelica invites Amy into the library and shows her guest tarot cards. When Amy picks up the cards, she shuffles madly as the cards take over her body. Angelica is super excited and says, “In every generation of Pierce women, one or two are born with a special power.” 

You’d think Amy’s mother would have told her this if it’s as consistent as “every generation.” 

Amy runs away because quick shuffling is too much for her. She would hate trick shuffling. In Vegas, she would just freak out and run screaming. She should do that now, but not for card-related reasons.

She goes outside to play with the children and we get to meet Angelica’s three sons – Joseph, Robert, and Brandon – and that’s a wrap on the boys. Let’s give them a hand for their hard fifteen minutes of work – they’ve been real professionals.

I’m not joking. Well, I’m joking a little. But that’s it for the boys. Later, it’s referenced that they’re playing war and none of them want to be “Yankees” so they all play the soldiers who betrayed our country because they wanted to own people.

Anyway, during a game of Hide and Seek, Amy gets lost among the greenery and trellises. She eventually hears a shrill scream from the garden next door. Amy finds an old woman and a snake. Amy kills the snake with a nearby garden hoe. 

The old woman, Clare Hathaway, is grateful and we also meet her son, David, who has an eyepatch and a sling. Angelica says he is dangerous and warns Amy to stay away from him. Apparently, he escaped a Union prison and has killed and will kill again. So, our romantic lead fought for the Confederacy. It’s becoming clear that I did not think about the issues that underpin this book. 

Amy joins Clare for tea and David is there. Apropos of nothing, Amy exclaims that she still wants to jump David’s bones even if some of those bones are brittle right now and he ain’t go no eye. 

While they’re flirting at an acceptable level for a ‘90s young adult novel, they hear a crash and a scream. Nellie has fallen out of the window.

The description of her mangled body and face is so graphic I don’t want to quote it for fear of demonetization (as if I did these for money). Morbidly, this is what I liked about the Fear Street Sagas over the mainline series. Stine didn’t shy away from the violence. There was no implication – no offscreen death. This is especially relevant now. PG-13 has all the violence of an R-rated movie but without the consequence. We don’t see the consequences of violence – just the violence itself. It’s crazy to read something in a book for thirteen-year-olds that would never be shown in a PG-13 movie.

Although, when I read these as a kid, it was more for bloodlust. As an adult, I can see the fun and humor in violence. I am, after all, a big fan of Friday the 13th, so much so that if a random person named a Friday the 13th movie and a name, I could probably tell them how they died. “Friday the 13th 6! Cort!” “First of all, it’s Jason Lives: Friday the 13th Part VI and knife through the temple!”

However, there may be people who don’t understand the appeal of horror. And that’s fine. I’m not here to change your mind. And if I did want to change your mind, I wouldn’t do it with this book. 

Anyway, Amy figures out that Nellie fell from Angelica’s study. She talks to the cards and she keeps seeing the Death Card (not the Ten of Swords, for those of you Tarot-inclined folks who are about to tell me that the Death Card doesn’t usually mean actual death, don’t DM me, I know). David shows up and has the privilege of saying that Nellie’s death was “no accident.” Classic horror dialogue.

Just because a maid died doesn’t mean they can’t have a good ol’ antebellum-style ball! We meet some of the local women: Chantal, a blonde woman with the hots for David, and Bernice, a woman who is on fire. Well, she’s not on fire for a few pages of the ball, but once she’s on fire, boy, she’s on fire! Literally! Her skin melts and everything! She took fire burning on the dance floor seriously.

I’ll take my decade-old song references, and my insensitivity, and take my leave.

After seeing a good friend fall out of a window and an acquaintance on fire, Amy is understandably distraught. In the middle of the night, David shows up at her window. Of course, Amy sneaks out and they run off to the middle of the garden, far away from the house, and David tells her what happened during the dance.

“Everything she touched started to burn,” he continued. “I thought I knew every terrible way to die. But I did not. Bernice’s death was the worst I’ve ever seen.”

Amy put her arms around him. She hung on tight.

His breath went out in a long, shuddering sigh. “Amy,” he murmured, his voice low and intense.

He pulled his head back and stared down at her. Then he kissed her. His lips felt warm and hard.

“Oh man, I’ve seen so much death. I’m so broken. Let’s make out. Ughluhluhluh.” 

Then he says that Amy shouldn’t trust anyone, including him, because he’s our red herring and he has to say that. And it’s the end of Part One.

Yes, the end of Part One. On page 78.

In Part Two, Amy sees a vision of David shoving Chantal in the lake. Our protagonist finds her dead – drowned in the lake. Amy determines that David is the killer, even though he ran off at the end of part one for unknown, plot-based reasons and hasn’t returned yet. 

Amy consults the tarot cards, but for some reason, when she gets close to them, she’s completely frozen. She cannot move and she is slowly freezing in the middle of a mansion in the antebellum version of the suburbs.

She focused all her attention on that small glowing ember inside her. The cards called to her, even through the awful cold. If she could only reach them, she had a chance.

Oh, but she was cold, so cold. She did not think she could make her body obey her again.

She had to try. Either that, or give up and allow the cold to take her completely.

“I . . . will . . . not . . . give . . . up!” she gasped.

She forces her way to the cards, pushing through the cold, forcing her legs to move through sheer fire and willpower. When she reaches the cards, they give her the strength and warmth she needs. 

It’s beautiful. A young woman overcomes an obstacle with her innate strength. And it’s as much character growth as we’re going to get and I’m perfectly happy with it.

The cards tell her that David killed Chantal and is going to kill his mother next. Amy rushes over to the Hathaway estate next door.

She finds Mrs. Hathaway in a trance at the top of the stairs. David appears behind his mother. Amy thinks he’s going to push her, but he pulls his mother away from the stairs instead. She was sleepwalking. Because David saved his mother, somehow, Amy knows he didn’t kill the other girls (even though the cards and the visions tell her that he did – we’ll get to that). 

David finally divulges his sordid past. He promised to keep a fourteen-year-old soldier safe and the kid got killed. Where the Union prison comes in, I have no idea. Amy is reassured, and so is the reader because we’re finally at the climax.

David urges Amy to stay with him, but Amy says that if Angelica suspects something is amiss, she would take it out on the Hathaways. Amy goes back to the house and finds Angelica in the doorway. The lady of the house pulls Amy in and sends her to her room.

In the middle of the night, Amy’s doorknob turns. It’s just Julia. She gives Amy a letter she found in the ash pile behind the house. It’s a letter from Amy’s mother that Angelica intercepted and intended to hide from her (not very well if a seven-year-old found it). Amy tries to go to David, but Angelica is waiting for her and goes full-on World of Warcraft boss, complete with phases. (And all my WoW are pre-Cata, sorry.)

In the first phase, Angelica summons wind, and leaves swirl around her. Also, she puts a barrier of green eyes around the party, so, hunters, I know you’ll have some trouble. Rogues will try to stay behind her, but they’ll probably get hit with her leaf AOE. The healers should use their HOTs on the rogues.

There’s a cut scene before phase two wherein the party temporarily gets away from Angelica and meets up with David. He asks the party to trust him. Make sure to type /yes for the Trust Buff. 

In phase two, Angelica spawns an extra mob – the column of smoke. Angelica will explain the smoke monster as well as her motivations:

“That column holds my spirits, my friends, my guides. Some of them have been with me since I was very young. Once I was like you. Frightened of the power inside me. But not anymore.”

“I was so looking forward to having another powerful PIerce woman in the family,” Angelica explained. “We could have done so much together. You have missed an incredible opportunity by turning against me.”

“To be evil?” she asked. Amy knew the door behind her was locked. And if she tried to run past Angelica, the spirits could swoop down on her.

“There is great power in evil,” Angelica replied. “Oh Amy. You could have had anything you wanted.” … “Well, anything but David,” she added. “I am saving him for Hannah.” … “The Hathaways are very wealthy,” … “David will marry Hannah and bring that fortune for the Fears.” … “David will do what I tell him.”

“I know you killed them all,” Amy whispered. “Nellie, Bernice, Chantal-”

“Of course,” Angelica replied. “Death pleases my spirits. And it adds to my power.”

The column of smoke moves toward the party. We just have to heal through it. It engulfs everyone and we can see the faces of the people it had fed upon and their horrible distended faces. Once we gain enough strength, we’ll shoot white balls from our bodies, destroying the column of smoke and causing damage to Angelica, who will go into phase three.

In this phase, Angelica will bring in David, who is seemingly under her spell. If we all have the Trust Buff, David snaps out of his trance and shoots Angelica. When we escape the house, ivy will attack the party. DPS please free the healers after you free yourselves, as they have to focus on healing. We’ll get a loot crate when we reach the Hathaways.

David and Amy escape the mansion and we time jump forward to David, his mother, and Amy leaving New Orleans. Amy mentions that she feels empathy for Julia, and she doesn’t think they should have left her there with that evil family that has nothing but disdain for her. David says that since Julia is a Fear, she was doomed from birth. Great thinking, David.

I had a great time with this book, however, it is difficult to forget that these people are from the side that wanted to keep and expand slavery into the west. If only this took place in the north, which is where I think Shadyside is located, and David escaped from a Confederate jail. If that were the case, I could enjoy this book with as much glee as I did when I was a kid. The setting puts a dark cloud over this book and makes it difficult to like the characters, especially David. The book never directly mentions slavery, nor is it an integral plot element, so there is no reason why the setting couldn’t be altered. In another world, one where the protagonists weren’t slavers, the book is stupid, morbid fun. Horror allows us to confront death and peril without actually putting ourselves in that situation. Tension followed by a scare gives us catharsis. Violence alleviates anger. Some of these things might not make sense to people who don’t understand horror, but those of us who can recite the deaths in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter know what I’m talking about.

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

Listen to the audio version on The Podcast!

The original Fear Street novels were too tame for my sixth-grade self. I craved more blood, more mayhem, more murder. Something shocking. Something that pushes what can be done in YA fiction. Something with more petticoats.

I preferred the spin-off series Fear Street Sagas to the original Fear Street and it served as historical fiction. These books went into Shadyside’s tumultuous past, and the infamous Fier (later spelled Fear) Family, starting with Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear.

Technically, this isn’t the beginning. There is a trilogy that comes before these, but I’m not reviewing those today. Instead, I’m starting where the trilogy ends, with the newly widowed Nora Goode trapped in an insane asylum, where all good horror starts.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

Fear Street Sagas #1: A New Fear
If that haircut doesn’t warn her to stay away from Creepy Eyes Brown Suit other there, then I guess nothing will keep her away.

Nora Goode married Daniel Fear and the whole family, save Nora, died in a tragic fire. (These names are not subtle.) Nora claims that the fire itself was malicious. For some old-timey reason, that’s enough to send a pregnant woman to an insane asylum. Back then, they threw women in asylums for being too mouthy, so this is absolutely believable.

What’s unbelievable is that the asylum thinks that giving an infant to a 12-year-old, who is also a patient, is an acceptable practice, but that’s what they do while they keep trying to convince Nora that the face she saw in the flames was a hallucination. She tries to escape by making a rope out of her hair, but she is caught and they cut off her hair.

Eventually, the asylum plans to take her child, Nicholas, away from her and give him to a family that “has agreed to pay [the doctor] a large sum for a male child.” Nora resists, fighting orderlies that try to pull her away from her son’s cradle. Just as the doctor takes Nicholas from the cradle, the amulet that Nora received as a wedding gift from Daniel glows.

The fire crackled and blazed. The flames grew higher and higher. They reached past the hearth. They climbed the wall. The flames lapped greedily at the ceiling. They grew higher until all Nora could see was a wall of fire.

A man emerged from the writhing flames.

“Daniel,” Nora gasped.

Her husband had come back from the grave.

“Come and join me, Doctor,” Daniel rasped. He reached past Nora and drew the doctor into the raging inferno.

Screaming, the doctor fell to his knees. His eyes bulged. Bulged out farther and farther. Then, with a moist pop, his eyes flew from their sockets and rolled across the floor. They hissed as flames devoured them.

There’s the bloodlust I craved in middle school! That was what the regular Fear Street books were missing: ridiculous body horror and talking fire ghosts.

Nora escapes with Nicholas as the asylum burns down. They stow away on a boat, where Nora eats a rat to survive. That’s a fun scene. She is discovered and the crew thinks she is a witch. Then the boat sinks. They are adrift at sea, but eventually, wash up on shore. Somehow, she still possesses the amulet.

She turned it over and read the inscription: DOMINATIO PER MALUM.

“Power through evil,” Nora whispered. “Your father gave this to me as a symbol of his love, Nicholas. The amulet was special to him, because it had been in his family for a long time.”

Nora sighed. “Your father’s family had power and money. But they paid a heavy price. They let evil into their lives, and it destroyed them.”

Nora stared down into the ocean for a long moment. “I do not want that evil to be a part of your life, Nicholas. I do not want you to suffer the same fate your father did.”

The amulet felt heavy in her hand. Heavy and warm.

Nora brought her arm back and flung it into the calm sea.

Relief swept through her. She hugged Nicholas. “Now the Fear evil cannot touch you.”

Nora stared down into her baby’s face. “We are going to start a new life – with new names. From now on, we will be known as Nora and Nicholas Storm.”

And that’s how the book ends.

I’m just kidding. That’s just the end of part one. We get a huge time jump – eighteen years. Nicholas Storm is a fisherman who hates fish. He is also a fisherman who loves a woman named Rosalyn. However, they can’t get married because Nicholas isn’t worth enough money for Rosalyn’s strict father. Also, his mother, our original protagonist, Nora, dies as she was telling him about his father, her last words being, “Your father left you a legacy of…”

So Nicholas goes off to find his legacy so he can someday marry Rosalyn. He leaves Shadow Cove, where he was living, and what do ya’ know, he ends up in Shadyside after a man who looks a little like him yells, “Shadyside!” and disappears. Because that’s how you choose where you want to figure out your life. You wait for a ghost that vaguely looks like you to shout a location and then you buy your ticket. Also, Rosalyn gives him her good luck charm – an amulet she found on the beach, one with some Latin on the back. It’s the amulet his mother threw into the ocean if you haven’t figured that one out.

In Shadyside, he finds Fear Street and thinks about its “strange name.” He stumbles across a huge, dilapidated, burned house. The house “whispers” to him so he decides to enter the house. A woman yells at him, “Daniel Fear! You’re supposed to be dead!” And then she attacks him with a knife.

Instead of running away and giving up this stupid quest, like any other human, he sticks around and asks her questions about the people who used to live there. She starts to cry and says that he ran off with his wife, Nora Goode. That’s enough for him to figure out that his mother changed her name to Nora Storm and his father is Daniel Fear.

Lightning lashed. “I know who I am at last!” Nicholas cried over the booming thunder. “I am Daniel Fear’s son.”

He clenched his fists. “I am Nora Goode’s son!”

He threw his head back.

“I am a Fear!” he shouted. “Nicholas Fear!”

That’s what normal people do – they run into the rain and punch dance their name.

But Nicholas can’t move into the house. He rents a room from a woman and her daughter – a forward girl named Betsy Winter. The next day, he goes to a man, Mr. Manning, to talk about the inheritance he believes he is owed. The man laughs and tells him that there is no inheritance – just a bunch of back taxes on the land. But Mr. Manning owns a sawmill and hires Nicholas so he can get back on his feet. As he is leaving, an out-of-control woman runs into him while on a bicycle. She is Ruth Manning, Mr. Manning’s daughter.

At the sawmill, Nicholas meets his new co-workers – a fussy little man named Jason and a friendly hulking man named Ike. Both Ruth and Betsy show up at different times while Nicholas is working to establish their overt feelings for him, and so Jason can get jealous over Ruth and be overly protective of Betsy. He is our red herring, after all.

Someone throws a rock at the back of Nicholas’s head with a note that he doesn’t belong in Shadyside. It’s hilarious. Who throws rocks like that? And to hit Nicholas without killing him, the thrower would have to be the weakest person and only a few feet away, which makes me wonder why Nicholas didn’t see who threw the rock. That or Nicholas has a very hard head.

While fixing up his wound, Betsy reveals that she is a Goode, but she doesn’t hate the Fears. This comes up later.

At the sawmill, Ike gets his fingers sliced off, Ruth expresses more interest in Nicholas, but he doesn’t return her affections, and Betsy also expresses more interest in Nicholas.

Later, Nicholas comes home and finds Betsy dead in the kitchen, tied up next to the stove.

He noticed something thick and white pushing its way out of her mouth. Nicholas dropped her wrist. He parted her lips and teeth.

The gooey white substance billowed out of her mouth.

Dough.

Nicholas checked her nose. Thick white dough filled it, too.

Someone had stuffed Betsy’s nose and mouth with dough. And left her by the stove with her hands tied behind her back.

As the dough rose, she suffocated.

This is how serial killers on The Great British Bake-Off kill people.

At the funeral, Jason says that they should be burying Nicholas, not his cousin. Jason warned Betsy not to get close to Nicholas and he believes that Nicholas killed Betsy. Jason threw the rock at Nicholas, and, since Betsy is a Goode, that makes Jason a Goode also.

Mr. Manning is also found dead. Ruth says that her father wanted her to marry Nicholas if anything happened to him, so he reluctantly agrees to marry her, just to help her during her grieving. He figures out that since Jason is a Goode, thinks he killed Betsy, and Mr. Manning liked Nicholas, Jason must have killed Mr. Manning.

It gets violent when he goes to confront Jason, but Ruth appears and stabs Jason in the throat. She reveals that if Nicholas doesn’t marry her, then she will tell everyone that Nicholas killed Jason, and no one would believe a stranger and Fear over the daughter of a beloved local businessman. Ruth also reveals that she killed Betsy to get her out of the way and killed her father to force Nicholas to marry her.

He gets married to her but plans to poison her after the wedding. However, Rosalyn (remember her?) shows up at his house and sees Ruth wearing the amulet that Rosalyn gave Nicholas. Ruth poisons Rosalyn with the poisoned drink that Nicholas was going to give to Ruth. It ends with Nicholas resigned to being with Ruth.

“Together, we shall make Fear Street all it was meant to be,” Ruth vowed. She ran her fingers over the words engraved on the back of the amulet. POWER THROUGH EVIL.

Nicholas gazed over at the remains of the Fear mansion. Yes, he thought. Soon everyone will know the name of Fear Street.

See that, kids? If you’re evil, you can make your dreams come true!

This is a fun book, even if it is ridiculous. It’s a promising start to a seminal series in my life. It even has a perfect horror movie ending, opening up the path for many, many sequels. The nonsensical plot and deus ex machina plot devices may make some roll their eyes, but I can’t help but love the melodrama, the reveals on reveals, and, most of all, the outrageous character deaths.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street Super Chiller: Broken Hearts

For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I’ve done, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com or follow RereadMyChildhd on Twitter. For more information about me, Amy A. Cowan, visit my website AmyACowan.com or follow my Twitter: amyacowan.