Oleander considered itself a nice town, full of good people, and there wasn’t, in those first two days, much looting or vandalism.
First, you have to imagine this spoken in Rod Serling‘s voice. “Oleander, Kansas, a small town in middle America, it could be any town, anywhere … but Oleander is deadly much like its floral namesake.” The bucolic pastoral setting, a diner filled with homey small-town people. Suddenly without warning the owner pulls out a rifle, gunning down the diners, killing all but one of the patrons and then turning it on himself. On the other side of town at the local trailer park a seemingly happily married wife disembowels her husband and then stabs herself to death. A parishioner is crucified by the local priest before he covers them in gasoline and sets them both alight. The local football stars’ secret lover is struck and killed by the assistant coach who also dies in the accident and finally that evening a babysitter smothers her young charge before leaping out the window presumably to her own death.
They called it the killing day. Twelve people dead, all in the space of a few hours. Five murderers: neighbors, relatives, friends. All of them so normal. All of them seemingly harmless. All of them now dead by their own hand . . . except one. And that one has no answers to offer the shattered town. She doesn’t even know why she killed—or whether she’ll do it again.
Something is waking in the sleepy town of Oleander’s, Kansas—something dark and hungry that lives in the flat earth and the open sky, in the vengeful hearts of upstanding citizens. As the town begins its descent into blood and madness, five survivors of the killing day are the only ones who can stop Oleander from destroying itself. Jule, the outsider at war with the world; West, the golden boy at war with himself; Daniel, desperate for a different life; Cass, who’s not sure she deserves a life at all; and Ellie, who believes in sacrifice, fate, and in evil. Ellie, who always goes too far. They have nothing in common. They have nothing left to lose. And they have no way out. Which means they have no choice but to stand and fight, to face the darkness in their town—and in themselves.
Comparisons to Stephen King, the undisputed King of the genre, are inevitable but it is in Robin Wasserman‘s masterful depiction of an outwardly idyllic small town setting as a facade disguising the true malignant nature of its populous that the resemblance is most apparent. The Waking Dark resumes a year after “The Killing Day” it may outwardly appear that things have somewhat returned to normal but for the five survivors of the massacre the events of that faithful day are far from behind them… and the killing has just begun.
The Waking Dark is gruesome, the scope and imagery of death and destruction taking place in Oleander is brutal more akin to the works of Dean Koontz than Stephen King in my opinion. Initially, it may seem surprising that The Waking Dark is YA fiction but upon reflection it was during those years that my consumption of horror was at its apex. Regardless of it’s target market The Waking Dark has mass appeal even if it leaves you looking at your neighbors askance and contemplating the nature of evil.
Lesson learned: don’t go looking in dark places, because dark things live there.
AUTHOR: Robin Wasserman
RATING: 4 Stars
GENRE: YA Horror
Disclaimer: ARC was provided by the publisher for an honest review.