Reader Beware Month: The Werewolf of Fever Swamp

Have I mentioned before on this blog that I love werewolves and werewolf stories?  I think I have.  Within horror, werewolves are my absolute favorite sub-genre.  It is with this in mind that I gladly picked up Werewolf of Fever Swamp at a used book store recently.  I thought it would be right up my alley:  A Goosebumps book centered around werewolves.  I just wish this book was a bit quicker on the draw.

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Grady and his family have just moved into Florida in a house at the edge of a swamp called Fever Swamp.  It’s not long until strange things start happening in the dead of night.  Howling is heard as if from an angry animal and other small animals are found torn apart throughout the neighborhood.  Could the dog Grady found recently be to blame or is there actually a werewolf in Fever Swamp?  Given that this is a Goosebumps book, do you really have to ask?

Here’s my problem with this story:  95% of it has pretty much nothing happening.  The creepiest things that happen are howling and dead animals.  Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t find noise and animal corpses to be all that suspenseful or scary.  Nothing ever felt creepy.  The lack of scares made this book feel slow as molasses.  Take out the last 8 pages and you’d hardly be able to call this a Goosebumps book. From my research, this is a very popular book in this series.  So, allow me to explain why I disliked the pace of the story before you disregard my opinion completely.

My girlfriend, Laura, feels like I don’t like horror unless it’s action packed and in you’re face.  That’s not the case at all and I will explain by example.  Halloween (the original) is my favorite horror movie of all time.  The first half of the movie has a lot of set up.  You get to know the characters.  You get to know why Michael is a force you don’t want to mess with.  He doesn’t really do anything until the second half of the movie. But what he DOES do until then is stalk people.  You get a sense of danger from him, a feeling like these people are in real danger.  Now let’s look at Fever Swamp.  The character hears noises and is not once in any real danger.   Not.  Once.  So that took away from the creepy air for me.  The only time he’s in danger is at the very end.  Still, the story does have some good things to offer.

Because of its incredibly slow pace, the characters do get a lot of development.  Grady makes friends in the new neighborhood and becomes braver and braver throughout the book.  Plus, this is a Goosebumps book that has more involvement from the parents than I’ve ever seen.  Sure, they still don’t believe Grady, but they actually have a presence in the story besides “disbelieving jerks.”  The older sister, Emily, didn’t do much in the story so I could have done without her.  Also, the friend characters, Will and Cassie, don’t do much either.  They just sort of befriend Grady.  They still felt like good characters, though.

The real highlight of the book is the ending.  I won’t dare give away the two twists of the story because they definitely add enjoyment.  Suffice to say, the first twist came completely out of left field.  I had no idea who the real werewolf could be and, unless you’ve read the book, you won’t guess it either.  The second twist, when it comes, is sort of predictable but only because I know werewolf lore.  If you know how werewolves work, you’ll see it coming too.  But the predictability of the second twist didn’t take away my enjoyment from it.

The ending truly saved the book from mediocrity for me.  While the development of the characters was handled very well, I was dying for the werewolf to show its fangs for a lot of the story.  The ending fulfilled my every wish.  If you like a good werewolf book, you can certainly do worse than this.  It’s no masterpiece, but it will certainly get you howling in the end.

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