Vacation activities for me come in three varieties and none of them are particularly relaxing. I don’t go on vacation to be pampered or sit and watch the sunset. I can do that at home. The first variety is the destination. I’m going to a specific place, like Universal Horror Nights or Disneyland, something I can’t experience anywhere else. The second is the shopping trip. I don’t have a k-pop store or an Ikea or a Daiso, so I drive out to Sacramento to shop (and visit relatives, I guess, but they aren’t a store). The final variety is the educational experience. The museums. The historical sites. I’m here to learn something, dammit, and I’m going to learn, consarnit.
In Goosebumps: A Night in Terror Tower, siblings Sue and Eddie are on a tour through an ancient tower while on vacation in England. It’s mildly educational, but the siblings are going to learn more about themselves than about portculli and barbicans.
Mr. Starkes, the tour guide for Terror Tower, is a goofy man with a sense of humor closer to Benny Hill than The Thick of It. Terror Tower is named after its previous resident, Sir Thomas Cargill Stuffordshire Tearor the IV. I’m kidding. It’s just called Terror Tower for no actual reason. Prisoners spent the remainder of their lives in this dank castle, and that’s pretty terror-inducing, but I guess these British people weren’t very creative.
Anyway, this tower tour isn’t the purely educational experience that Hawaiian-shirt-and-cargo-shorts-clad tourists expect.
I heard several gasps of surprise behind me. Turning back, I saw a large hooded man creep out of the entrance and sneak up behind Mr. Starkes. He wore an ancient-looking green tunic and carried an enormous battle-ax.
He raised the battle-ax behind Mr. Starkes.
“Does anyone here need a very fast haircut?” Mr. Starkes asked casually, without turning around. “This is the castle barber!”
We all laughed. The man in the green executioner’s costume took a quick bow, then disappeared back into the building.
And that’s it for him. Did you think the kids would be running away from the dude on the cover? Well, you’d be wrong. Do you think he’s coming back? You’d still be wrong.
Anyway, the kids listen to Mr. Starkes’s castle facts and they hear about two of the tower’s residents: Princess Sussannah and Prince Edward of York. Just as our protagonists learn of the fates of the royals, Sue drops her camera and the kids can’t hear what Mr. Starkes says.
Unfortunately, before they could ask for Mr. Starkes to repeat what he said, the tour moves on. Sue and Eddie get distracted, leaving the kids alone, separated from the rest of the group. Great crowd control there, Mr. Starkes. Remind me not to suggest you chaperone a class field trip.
Suddenly, a failed Las Vegas magician shows up, complete with a wide-brimmed hat and cape. He plays with white stones, threatens the kids, and never answers their questions. Questions like, “Who are you?” and “What do you want with us?”
As David Copperfield over here fiddles with his rocks, the kids run away and attempt to trap him. Each time they try something, the man laughs and says things like, “You can’t escape me!” The kids end up in the sewers, where it seems they are cornered. Eddie attacks the man, stealing the special stones, and the kids run outside. They are out of the tower, but it’s night time and the tour group has left them behind.
“Man? What man?” The night guard eyed us suspiciously.
‘The man in the black cape!” I replied. “And the black hat. He chased us. In the Tower.”
“There’s no man in the tower,” the guard replied, shaking his head. “I told you. I’m the only one here after closing!”
“But he’s in there!” I cried. “He chased us! He was going to hurt us! He was going to hurt us! He chased us through the sewer and the rats-”
“Sewer? What were you two doing in the sewer?” the guard demanded. “We have rules here about where tourists are allowed. If you break the rules, we can’t be responsible.”
Well, he is as helpful as every horror stock character.
The kids hail a cab and head back to the hotel. So we’re out of the tower? I guess I’m the silly one for thinking we’d spend the whole book in the tower. Anyway, the cabbie wants his money, so the kids hand him the money their parents gave them. The man looks at the money and is furious. It’s not British money – it’s just some flat metal coins. The kids promise to pay him once they talk to their parents. The cabbie waits outside as the kids go to their hotel room.
Of course, they can’t get into their hotel room. They talk to the front desk, who asks for their last names.
My name is Sue, I told myself. Sue . . . Sue . . . what?
Shaking, tears running down my cheeks, I grabbed Eddie by the shoulders. “Eddie,” I demanded, “what’s our last name?”
“I – I don’t know!” he sobbed.
“Oh, Eddie!” I pulled my brother close and hugged him. “What’s wrong with us? What’s wrong with us?”
To compound on that, they can’t remember their parents. It’s not going great for the kids who happen to also have names close to the doomed royalty in the tower that they were in just moments before. Even though they are confused kids, the hotel staff leaves them alone. The kids venture outside and the guy who revealed the magician’s secrets appears and demands that Eddie returns his balls. Like a maniac, Eddie gives him the stones back because he thinks that the magician will let them go. However, to no one’s surprise, the magician grabs them, plays with his balls, and everything goes black for our protagonist.
Sue wakes up in what she assumes is “the old section of the hotel.” Yes, the necessary “old section” of a hotel. Every Best Western I’ve ever stayed at has the old section next to the continental breakfast. Every old section also comes with a rambling old man, and this book is no exception.
The old man old mans all over the place, rambling and engaging in general weirdness. The kids escape again because while most magicians are familiar with rope tricks, this magician is only into closeup sleight-of-hand prestidigitation and he didn’t tie up the kids or anything. They follow a cacophony of voices and they crash a party where everyone is dressed up in medieval clothes. Then the guests start screaming when they see the siblings. You kids still haven’t figured it out, yet, huh?
They escape outside and there are no buildings – just fields, chickens, and extras straight from the set of Monty Python and the Holy Grail. They try to get help, but through a series of events wherein a random woman betrays them for “the Lord High Executioner,” the kids are back in the tower. Finally, we get an explanation from Morgred, the king’s sorcerer.
“You really are Edward and Susannah,” Morgred replied. “You are the Prince and Princess of York. And you have been ordered to the Tower by your uncle, the king.”
Well, duh. But what’s up with all the time travel?
“I tried to send you as far from the Tower as possible,” Morgred tried to explain again. “I sent you far into the future to start new lives. I wanted you to live there and never return. Never return to face doom in this castle.”
Morgred continued his story in a whisper. “When I cast the spell that sent you into the future, the Executioner must have hidden nearby. I used three white stones to cast the spell. Later, he stole the stones and performed the spell himself. He sent himself to the future to bring you back. And as you both know, he caught you and dragged you back here.”
Well, Morgred is there. Can he help the kids?
No. Because he doesn’t want to be tortured.
Then Eddie steals the stones and does the spell for himself and his sister.
The kids are back in the present day with the tour from the beginning. The kids ask what happened to the Prince and Princess. The tour guide lets them know that royal siblings just disappeared and no one knows what happened to them.
Then they turn to their new uncle – Morgred. They didn’t just leave him to be tortured. The spell took him as well. The kids and their uncle continue their lives, presumably in present-day England, eating crumpets, watching Downton Abbey, and voting for Brexit like proper British people.
There’s not much to say about this middle-of-the-road Goosebumps book. The book kept moving and held my interest. It’s fine. It’s neither a classic nor is it one of the worst.
The only real criticism I have is that the title and cover promise more than what the book delivers. It’s not a night and they don’t even spend most of the night in the tower. Also, the kids weren’t running from the hooded badass with an ax. They were running from David Blaine. And David Blaine is not scary, even if he can hang out in an ice block for a really long time, which is somehow a magic trick?
For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written, 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.