“The Rules,” a horror novel by Nancy Holder and Debbie Viguié, follows a group of teenagers at an exclusive party at an abandoned warehouse. Hosting the party on the one-year anniversary of his sister’s death, August is convinced that someone in the group of teenagers he invited had something to do with it. The party involves sex, booze and a scavenger hunt. For the scavenger hunt, phones are taken away to ensure there’s no cheating and batteries disappear. The group quickly realize that they are the ones being hunted, and likely by someone within the group.
If you’re a person who likes a campy and classic horror story – along with multiple points of view that make the reader keep guessing who could possibly be the killer – then this book is for you. This, however, is one of the only good things I can say about the story. One thing I love about books is the characters, how they interact, how they are developed, their significance to the story. I believe that strongly-written characters can make or break a story. This book is short, which means it is fast-paced and left much to be desired in terms of character development. They all seem two-dimensional; the jock with the soft side, the bad boy, the shy girl, the social climber, etc., etc. The authors try to make these characters fun and interesting, giving the bad boy a chihuahua instead of a big mean dog, having the shy girl be a Clue expert and therefore a mystery authority, but it fell flat and seemed forced and unrealistic.
Although I usually love a changing point of view, and I believe they can add many perspectives to a story, these characters had no voice. The authors don’t do a great job of distinguishing one perspective from another, and the writing for all voices is basic, to say the least. It would have suited the book better to have only one or two points of view for the reader to keep track of. The many points of view do not work in the authors’ favor, and at times it was confusing trying to figure out who was talking and what their “tragic backstory” was. The backstories are a bit more understandable, at least from a teenager’s perspective, but it’s hard to relate when you’re not a teenager anymore. They were all classic teenager problems set against a group of teens who live an ultra-privileged life, which makes it hard for the reader to connect. The most well-developed backstory was the girl having an affair with her teacher and it could have turned into something very interesting if she wasn’t the first to be killed off.
What makes a good horror novel is the mystery and suspense that an author builds, but Holder and Viguié didn’t seem to have the patience to do that. Instead, they laid out a character’s life story within a chapter or two of meeting them, which doesn’t give the reader a chance to figure out the deep dark secrets they’re hiding. The fast-paced aspect of the story doesn’t leave much room for suspense either; everyone seems to die every other chapter in quick succession, then the villain is unmarked and the story is over. Holder and Viguié definitely tried to build suspense by adding a wild animal into the story. This, however, didn’t land the way the authors wanted it to. The animal was a mountain lion who seemed to be stalking the teens for as long as the killer has, so every noise in the woods or feeling of eyes watching you was either a killer or a mountain lion. I’m not a mountain lion expert, but that doesn’t seem like mountain lion behavior.
The ending left much to be desired and chalked up the killer to being “crazy” with no real reasons behind why they went on a murder spree. There are rare places were the “crazy” scapegoat works, and this is not one of them. Overall, this was not a good book for anyone looking for something genuinely scary or thrilling, as everything from the characters to the setup was forced, two-dimensional or flat. If you’re someone who maybe needs a good “Scooby-Doo” mystery where the gang splits up and not a lot of things make sense, then you may want to pick this up.
But then again, you’d be better off just watching “Scooby-Doo.”