A week before Halloween, Cooger & Dark’s Pandemonium Shadow Show creeps silently into Green Town, Illinois, in the middle of the night. To most of the town’s inhabitants, the show is a carnival like any other, with its sideshows, rides, and circus freaks. But 13-year-old best friends Jim Nightshade and Will Halloway suspect that something more sinister is at work. The carnival seems to lure unwary visitors into its depths, and those who fall under its spell will never be the same again. It’s up to Jim and Will — and Will’s father, an unassuming librarian who worries about his age and his relationship with his son — to uncover the dark secret at the heart of the circus and to prevent it from ensnaring more victims.
I don’t usually read horror novels, but I was interested in this book because of its classic status (and, frankly, because of its Shakespearean title). Unfortunately, this novel really didn’t work for me, but the problem wasn’t the story at all — it was the writing style. The prose is gratingly faux-poetic, overblown, and melodramatic. Words are often used in unconventional ways (nouns being used as verbs and the like), which can be an effective stylistic choice, but in this case I found it incredibly distracting. I also found the dialogue completely unrealistic and stilted. It’s a shame, because I actually do think the basic story is fascinating and could have been very effective in the right hands. I’m definitely not enthusiastic about trying more Bradbury after this — and I’m wondering how well Fahrenheit 451 would stand up to a re-read!