This wobbly spinoff from Sarrantonio's novella "Hornets" falls short of the haunting Halloween spirit that he evoked effectively in the novel October (1990) and the stories collected in Toybox (1999). In upstate Orangefield, N.Y., the annual Pumpkin Days Festival stirs up Samhain, the Celtic Lord of Death, who has figured in centuries of local folklore. For ages, Samhain has schemed to deliver the world to his master, the Dark One, and this year he had found three perfect victims to consummate the requisite sacrifices on Halloween evening: Aaron Peters, a vet who never recovered from physical and psychological wounds sustained in Somalia; Jordie, a massively medicated borderline psychopath; and Annabeth Turner, a precociously curious teenager. Speaking in voices only they can hear, Samhain plays on their personal weaknesses and forces them down roads that lead inevitably to self-destruction. In homage to Ray Bradbury, to whom the book is dedicated, Sarrantonio attempts to write the tale as a fable that will appeal to all ages. This yields some poetic seasonal imagery, but not much of a plot. For the most part, the private experiences of the characters develop independent of the pervasive Halloween festivities, and the relationship between Samhain and his master unfolds through chatty banter that seems calculated to neutralize their menace. A twist at the climax adds a few last-minute surprises, but not enough to place this at the top of the Halloween goody sack. (Nov.)
Forecast:Cemetery Dance's strong track record with Halloween-themed titles, such as last year's anthology, Trick or Treat, which included "Hornets," and October Dreams, which won an International Horror Guild award, should guarantee a quick sell-out, despite the novel's weaknesses.
Release date: 10/01/2002